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The gathering together of these fourteen 
numbers, and their embodiment in a little vol- 
ume, are wholly the work of our friends, the 
publishers. I looked no farther than to the 
agency of the journal, in which these papers were 
originally published, for their dissemination. I 
had no thought of making a book. Indeed, it has 
often seemed to me a much more satisfactory 
course, upon such an occasion as the present, to 
address some ten, twenty, or thirty thousand read- 
ers, through the columns of a popular newspaper, 
of good repute ; than to embark one's thoughts, in 
a portly volume, which may never 'come before 
the eyes of half as many hundreds. If, among 
these floating fragments, there is anything of 
value, sooner or later some literary chiffonier, as 
they pass down the stream, may arrest their pro- 
gress, and gather them to the shore ; and, all that 
is destined to perish, cannot gravitate into obliv- 
ion, too cheaply, or too speedily. These remarks, 
of course, apply not to authors by profession, 
who thrive by their literary labors. 

As I have said, the publishers have made a 

little book ; and now they ask me for a preface. 

But, it seems to me, that a formal preface will 

give to these light labors an air of importance, 

which does not belong to them. Let me say 

then, in a word, that it was my object to record 

a few reminiscences of my honored master, and 

to pay the humble tribute of my cordial respect 

to his memory. 




No. I. 

**** eum statuebam disertum, qui posset satis acute, 
atque dilucide, apud mediocres homines, ex communi 
quadam opinione, dicere ; eloquentem vero, qui mira- 
bilius et magnificentius augere posset, atque ornare, 
quae vellet, omnesque omnium rerum, quae ad dicen- 
dum pertinerent, fontes animo ac memoria contineret. 
Cic. de Oratore. Lib. L 21. 

There appears to be no immediate prospect 
of assistance from Macedonia; though I have 
long cherished a hope, that a friend of mine, 
eminently qualified for the work, would come 
over, and help us to a faithful and well-merited 
memorial of this extraordinary man. 

My recollections of Mr. Dexter are so full of a 
sentiment of affectionate respect, for his great 
kindness and condescension towards me, some 
fifty years ago, that I should be unwilling to 
speak of him, as I think and feel; were it not, 
that many yet live, who knew him well; who 
cherish a cordial respect for the lofty tone of his 
character; and who remember how difficult it 

8 sigma's reminiscences 

was, even for twelve headstrong and predeter- 
mined jurymen to resist his great talent for con- 
version. It may be said of him, in very simple 
language, that reasoning came easier to him, 
than to most men. In the words of Mr. Webster, 
"his very statements were arguments;" and the con- 
clusions arose, in the mind of every intelligent 
listener, so very easily, that he might almost be- 
lieve the whole process to have been elaborated 
in the work-shop of his own brain. And yet, 
in many cases, the effort to move forward, from 
premises to conclusions, so steadily, and surely, 
and gracefully withal, would tax severely the in- 
tellectual powers of more than one, who, at the 
present day, are justly famous for their peculiar 
eloquence. I have heard him argue many causes, 
involving such questions, as arise, in the ordina- 
ry business litigation, between man and man ; 
and, occasionally, such, as, above all others, are 
calculated to excite the strongest emotions of 
the heart : but I recollect no one occasion, upon 
which he endeavored to be fine, or flowery — or 
to amaze the panel, with quaint and extraordi- 
nary illustrations — or to argue the cause, as 
though he expected a verdict, rather from the 
surrounding audience, than from the jury. Mr. 
Dexter could never be charged with "amphibol- 
ogy of language, vagueness of description, or vacu- 
ity of expression." The professional reader will 
remember to have met with this amusing assem- 
blage of words, in the work of Mr. Roberts, on 
frauds. The phraseology of this great lawyer 
was exceedingly simple; and he rarely employed 
a long word, however elegant, to express his 
meaning, when a shorter would suffice. He led the 


jury straight forward, from the commencement 
to the close of his argument, by the shortest 
route, and without any unnecessary flourishes, 
or rhetorical coruscations, by the way. He was 
the strong man of his time. There was the same 
difference, between him, and the majority of his 
associates, at the forum, as there has been, in 
these later years, between the great lawyer, and 
those, by whom he was surrounded. There was 
no coeval, at the bar of Massachusetts, whose 
abilities were a fair match for Mr. Dexter's. 
Men there were, undoubtedly, of splendid tal- 
ents, and more deeply versed in professional lore, 
than he — but none — not one, who, in a seeming- 
ly desperate cause, where, to common observa- 
tion, there appeared no inch of ground, on which 
to build an argument, could, so adroitly, after 
having demolished the work of his antagonist, 
construct, of the very disjecta membra, a fabric, 
so firm, and so fair. 

There were men, whose eloquence was of the 
highest order; and of some of whom it might be 
said, in the words, facetiously employed by Mr. 
Dexter himself, upon a certain occasion, that 
they had the happy talent of "keeping the sound 
agoing, after the sense had gone." There he 
stood, like some supereminent oak, but for 
whose colossal proportions, more than one of 
the surrounding group would have appeared gi- 
gantic. This ancient commonwealth never pro- 
duced a man of more extraordinary, intellectual 
powers : and yet a generation is springing up, 
who, upon the mention of his name, may be 
pardoned, for inquiring — "Who was Samuel 
Dexter ?" 

10 sigma's reminiscences 

A few meagre and disjointed sketches of this 
great man's life are all, that we possess; while 
memoirs and biographies of "names ignoble, 
born to be forgot," are continually thrust before 
the community, in prodigal profusion. Not a 
few, whose early recollections of Mr. Dexter 
might have supplied materials, not to be disre- 
garded, in the construction of a memoir, haye 
passed away. The late Judge Davis, Judge 
Elijah Paine of Vermont, the Hon. Dudley At- 
kins Tyng, and Joseph Hall, Esquire, of this 
city, were classmates of Mr. Dexter. From such 
intelligent witnesses, much interesting informa- 
tion might have been derived, touching his early 
habits and associations, while at the university. 
If Mr. Nathan Read is now living, he is the only 
survivor, of this class of 1781. 

By presenting a few important facts and inter- 
esting reminiscences, in relation to Mr. Dexter, 
peradventure, some person, well qualified for the 
undertaking, may be provoked to the good work ; 
and prepare an elaborate memoir, alike honor- 
able to the writer, and worthy of the man, of 
whom, upon the occasion of his death, John 
Adams declared, while writing to a friend, in 
1816 — "I have lost the ablest friend I had on earth, 
in Mr. Dexter." (1) 

Should I fail in producing this result, it will, 
nevertheless, give me great pleasure, to deposit 
here my humble tribute, to the memory of a 
man, for whom I have ever cherished a profound 
and affectionate respect. Samuel Dexter was 
not only the most distinguished barrister of his 

1. Works of John Adams, Yol. X., page 220. 


day, in New England; but he was a true patriot, 
of the esto perpetua school. His was an Ameri- 
can heart, that spurned the shackles of any po- 
litical party, which had set its affections, less 
upon the common weal, than upon the compara- 
tively paltry triumphs of a clique. 

12 sigma's reminiscences 

No. II. 

Without any purpose of overshadowing the 
reader, beneath the far-spreading branches of a 
family tree, it may not be amiss, briefly to ex- 
hibit the lineal descent of this great man, from 
his earliest New England ancestor. Kichard Dex- 
ter, of Maiden, came hither, at an early period. 
He was admitted townsman, of Boston, "28th 
of the 12th mo. 1641." His son John, who, like 
his father, cultivated the Lane farm, so called, 
in Maiden, died Dec. 8, 1677, at the age of 38. 
His son John, also a farmer, married Winnifred 
Sprague of Maiden; and died Nov. 14, 1722. 
He was deacon of the parish, selectman of the 
town, and, in the time of George the First, bore 
a commission, from Governor Shute, as captain 
of a company of foot. Samuel, the third of 
eight children, of John and Winnifred Dexter, 
was born Oct. 23, 1700, and died Jan. 29, 1755. 
He was a graduate of Harvard College, in 1720 . 
For a short time, he was a schoolmaster, in 
Taunton, Lynn, and Maiden. The bias of his 
mind however led him to graver pursuits ; and 
he entered the ministry, preaching his first ser- 
mon, October 15, 1722. This good man must 
have been in some request; he had offers of a 
settlement, from Brimfield, Medford, Westboro', 
Yarmouth, and Dedham. He finally accepted 
an unanimous call, from Dedham ; and was or- 
dained, the fourth pastor of the first church, in 


that village, May 6, 1724, and there lie lived and 


"A man lie was to all the country dear. 

And passing rich, with forty pounds a year; 

Remote from towns he ran his godly race 

Nor e'er had chang'd. nor wish ; d to change his place. " 

There may he an important difference, be- 
tween the temporals of Goldsmith's curate, and 
those of the Rev. Mr. Dexter, whose salary, at 
the time of his settlement, was £150 per annum. 

There were peculiarities, in the temperament of 
this excellent man, which are sufficiently describ- 
ed, in a brief account of him elsewhere — "He 
seemed, in early life, to have been naturally 
averse to prominent positions, and seldom con- 
sented to occupy them, without reluctance, being 
much inclined to seclusion; alluding, at times, to 
his 'suffering, under very grievous, disheartening 
discouragements, extraordinary dulness, and 
very grievous heaviness '; 'melancholy/ says he, 
'is so much my natural disposition, that it makes 
my life very uneasy/ At a few months later 
date, however, we find his disheartening discour- 
agements were less grievous, as the following ex- 
tracts from his diary will show: 'This dap 
was very cold. I communicated something of my 
mind, to the young lady, which I hope, and I think 
I have reason to hope, may, through the smiles of an 
indulgent Providence, be the person, in whom I may 
find the good thing, and obtain favor of the Lord. 
I think I have not been rash, in my proceedings; 
she is, as far as I can find,, a woman of merit, a 
woman of good temper, and of prudent conduct and 
conversation, and Oh Lord, I would humbly wait 
upon thee, for so signal a blessing/ In a little less 
than a year afterwards, he observes : 'My com- 

14 sigma's reminiscences. 

pardon is a kind, tender, and virtuous person, and 
I Jwpe I have in her a good thing, which is from the 
Lord God.'" (1) 

This lady, Catherina Mears, became his wife, 
July 9, 1724. His prayers appear to have been 
answered abundantly; and he seems to have 
found the "good thing." Catherina bore him 
eleven children. Their son, Samuel, was born 
March 16, 1726, and died June 10, 1810, at the 
age of 84. He was a merchant, in Boston. He 
married Hannah, daughter of Andrew and Mary 
Sigourney. This lady was a descendant of An- 
dre Sigourney, who fled hither from Rochelle, at 
the time of the revocation of the edict of Nantes, 
in 1685. Dr. Abiel Holmes, in his highly inter- 
esting memoir of the French Protestants, who 
settled in Massachusetts, in 1686, says of her : 
"Mrs. Dexter I well remember, while at Wood- 
stock. She was a respectable lady, of dark com- 
plexion, with characteristic French features and 
pronunciation." (2) Her husband was a man of 
honorable distinction. 
The Rev. Dr. Holmes says of him : 
"The Hon. Samuel Dexter, senior, father of the 
late Mr. Dexter, was a member of the first Pro- 
vincial Congress in Massachusetts, and founder 
of the Dexter Professorship of Sacred Literature, 
in the University in Cambridge. Soon after the 
commencement of the revolutionary war, he re- 
moved, with his family, to Woodstock, in Con- 
necticut. He had a large library, which attract- 
ed much attention, at the time of its removal, 
and he was greatly devoted to the use of it, in 
his retirement, to the close of his life. He was 

1. New Eng. Hist, and Gen. Reg., vol. 8 } page 250. 

2. Mass. Hist. Coll., vol. 22, page 79. 


a gentleman of a highly respectable character; 
possessed a handsome estate; and enjoyed, far 
beyond most literary men, in our country, otium 
cum dignitate. He spent a few of his last years, 
at Mendon, in Massachusetts, where he died, in 
1810, but his remains were interred, according to 
the directions of his will, at Woodstock. I have 
seen the lot, in which he was buried, not far 
from the first church, in my native town; but 
no sign of his grave can be traced. It was his 
own direction, that his body should be interred, 
in the exact centre of the lot ; and the grave 
levelled on the surface ; and the whole lot cul- 
tivated alike, that no distinction might be per- 
ceived. There is a good portrait of Mr. Dexter, 
at the library of our University." (3) 

During that period of political strife, which 
preceded the revolution, he was repeatedly elect- 
ed Councillor, and, on account of his well-known 
patriotic zeal, negatived, by the royal Governor. 
(4) He was, at length, admitted to a seat, in the 
Council; but, in 1774, he was again negatived, 
by the express command of his majesty. He 
and his Huguenot lady were the parents of Sam- 
uel Dexter, the great lawyer and statesman, who 
was the last born of their five children. 

Samuel Dexter was born, in Boston, in 
1761, entered Harvard University, in 1777, and 
received his bachelor's degree, in 1781, with the 
first honors of his class. He took his master's 
degree, in course; and the degree of LL.D. was 
conferred upon him, in 1813. He studied his 
profession, at Worcester, in the office of Levi 
Lincoln, father of ex-Governor Lincoln of Mas- 
sachusetts. At the close of his novitiate, in 

3. Ibid. 

4. Allen's Biog. Die, article Dexter. 

16 sigma's reminiscences 

1784, lie commenced practice in Lunenburg. 
He soon removed to Chelmsford, where he open- 
ed an office, in 1786. After an experiment of 
short duration, he again removed, to Billerica, 
one of the most "untravelled" villages of the 
Commonwealth; in which, if I am not mistaken, 
the hoys and girls enter the meeting house, dur- 
ing the floral season, with sprigs of fennel and 
pond lilies in their hands, as of yore; when the 
humanities were birched into some of us, by 
master Ebenezer Pemberton, some sixty years 
ago. There is something, irresistibly amusing, 
in the idea of such an intellectual Colossus, oper- 
ating, in a sphere, so comparatively contracted 
and obscure. A right whale, in our "frog 
pond," would not seem more entirely out of 

In Billerica, Mr. Dexter is supposed to have 
remained, about two years, when he once more 
removed, to Charlestown; and, after a few years, 
to Boston. The house, which he occupied, in 
Charlestown, is still standing, between Main and 
High streets. The history of the house of "our 
Lady," at Jerusalem, which is said to have come 
to Loretto, in a single night, is not more surpris- 
ing, than that of the office — the visible temple — 
occupied by Mr. Dexter, at Billerica; the state- 
ment is contained, in a letter, dated December 13, 
1856, from a highly respectable inhabitant of 
that village. "Some twenty years ago," says 
the writer, "while digging, I found a complete 
set of stones, evidently the undei-pinning of a 
small edifice. These I removed, unconscious, 
that I was disturbing the foundation of Law. 
Col. Josiah B. Richardson, passing at the time, 


informed me, that there once stood the office of 
the renowned Samuel Dexter. He also informed 
me, that it was removed to the centre of the 
town, and became a shoemaker's shop ; and was 
afterwards moved back again. Mr. Josiah 
Stearns purchased, and placed it, between his 
range of sheds and dwelling house. It was sold 
by Luther Faulkner to Mr. Dexter Mears, and 
wheeled off, among the pines, about eighty rods 
west of the corner bridge, and occupied, as a 
dwelling, by himself. After a few years' re- 
pose, it was again mounted on wheels, and car- 
ried about eighty rods farther west. Should 
you visit the spot, you would there find domicil- 
ed the aforesaid Dexter Mears, his wife, and 
children. The fact, that this was the veritable 
office of Mr. Dexter, is the only apology for these 
particulars." The office seems to have been not 
less given to migration than its original proprie- 
tor : and it is somewhat remarkable, that the 
name of the present owner combines the sur- 
names of Mr. Dexter\s reverend grandfather, 
and of that Catharina Mears, in whom he found 
"the good thing," in 1724, one hundred and 
thirty-two years ago. 

Mr. Dexter' s extraordinary powers were soon 
duly estimated, and extensively employed. He 
was early in our State Legislature. Massachu- 
setts elected him, first to the House of Represen- 
tives; and, readily perceiving his fitness, for a 
more elevated post of usefulness and honor, to 
the Senate of the United States. From the Sen- 
ate, he was transferred to the Department of War, 
of which he was appointed Secretary, by John 
Adams, May 13, 1800. Mr. Wolcott resigned the 

18 sigma's reminiscences 

office of Secretary of the Treasury, at the close 
of that year; and Mr. Dexter was appointed, in 
his stead. Near the end of his administration, 
Mr. Adams tendered him a foreign embassy; 
and, in 1815, he was requested, by Mr. Madison, 
to accept the mission to Spain, both which he de- 

"Upon the accession of Mr. Jefferson to the 
Presidency," says Judge Story, "he resigned his 
public employments" : a more exact statement 
is this — Mr. Jefferson's term commenced March 
4, 1801, and Mr. Dexter retained the office, to 
meet the wishes of the Executive, until January 
26, 1802, when Mr. Gallatin was appointed. In 
the winter of 1815-16, Mr. Dexter had suffered, 
but not severely, from an epidemic, then preva- 
lent, at Washington; and, in consequence, had, 
on one occasion, been compelled to suspend an 
argument, in which he was engaged. This ill- 
ness, however, had passed away; he was appa- 
rently in fine health; and had gone to Athens, 
in the State of New York, with his family, to be 
present, at the marriage ceremony of his elder 
son. He arrived, on the last day of April, 1816, 
somewhat indisposed. Soon, however, he be- 
came seriously ill; and, anticipating his ap- 
proaching end, gave all necessary orders, relat- 
ing to his temporal affairs, and calmly prepared 
to die. At midnight, on the third of May, a 
cloud obscured his understanding — he lost his 
senses for the space of three hours ; and expired, 
early on the morning of the fourth. Not long 
before his death, he had been the Republican 
candidate, in Massachusetts, for Governor, in 
opposition to General Brooks, who prevailed, by 


a majority of 2000 votes, over 47,000, cast for 
Mr. Dexter. 

20 sigma's reminiscences 

No. III. 

Mr. Dexter was above the average height; of 
strong and muscular structure ; but never incli- 
ning to corpulency. His features were large and 
bold. His complexion was very dark ; in Castile, 
or Arragon, he might have passed, unchallenged, 
as of the manor born. He seemed to have in- 
herited that appearance of foreign origin, which, 
as I have stated, upon the authority of the Rev. 
Dr. Holmes, was so strongly stamped, on the 
features of his Huguenot mother. He was, at 
one time, engaged in the defence of some for- 
eign sailors, who were on trial, in Ehode Island, 
for piracy. During the trial, he had occasion to 
confer with them repeatedly ; and a Quaker, to 
whom he was personally unknown, observed to 
a friend, when Mr. Dexter commenced his argu- 
ment — "how well lie speaketh our language/' mista- 
king him, for one of the foreigners, arguing, in 
behalf of himself and his associates. His eyes 
were large, and marvellous conveyancers of 
meaning. Never did I look upon a face, so brim 
full of logic. His mouth also was large, sinuous, 
and flexible. His forehead was lofty and broad. 
His hair, when he was fifty, some five years be- 
fore his decease, was dark, or iron gray; rather 
coarse, and falling loosely, without any studied 
arrangement. His dress was always neat, but 
simple. His gait was erect, and his step firm 
and deliberate. 


The portrait, by Stuart, and the engravings by 
Edwards, are satisfactory representations of Mr. 
Dexter, when disengaged, and at rest ; although 
the attitude is rather stiff and formal. But they 
afford no just personation of Mr. Dexter, when- 
ever the excitement of the forum operated, like 
a teasel, to raise the nap of his mighty spirit. 
His voice was monotonous, and his speech slow 
and measured. Artificial gesticulation had no 
part, in the secret of his great success. His ges- 
tures were rather peculiar. He often argued, 
with the left arm behind his back, and the right 
extended towards the jury, and the hand firmly 
clenched. When growing earnest, he often in- 
clined his body slightly forward, and, closing the 
palms of his hands, moved them up and down 
repeatedly, as though he were about to dive into 
the jury box; and, at such times, a dignified mo- 
tion of the head gave emphasis to the argument. 
When deeply engaged, in any important cause, a 
slight tremulation of the fingers was frequently 

He was in the practice of walking much, in his 
office, with his hands behind his back, and in 
perfect silence. He had a very common habit of 
sitting, for an hour and more, with his eyes 
closed, his chair canted backwards, his feet rest- 
ing against the wall, or the mantel, and, while in 
this position, gently stroking his nose with his 
thumb and finger. On such occasions, no one 
disturbed him, without good and sufficient rea. 
son; for this was accounted by the students, an 
intellectual process; and by some of us, jocular- 
ly called milking Ms brain. 

The manners and conversation of Mr. Dexter 


were remarkably plain and direct. No man ever 
talked less persiflage. He was, in no respect, a 
courtier. He had the careful formality of a wise 
man, who knows something of his species. 
With strangers he appeared rather precise and 
repulsive; hut with those, in whom he confided, 
and whom he esteemed, no man could be more 
agreeable, or frank, or even more genial, than he. 
I remember but one occasion, upon which his 
conservative carnage towards persons, whom he 
did not know, proved the occasion of personal 
embarrassment to himself. A man, of plain ap- 
pearance, came, one morning, to the office, 
dressed in a shaggy top coat, leaving it quite un- 
certain what manner of man he was, or to what 
order of society he belonged. He presented a 
note to Mr. Dexter, which he read attentively, 
and apparently more than once, turning his eyes, 
now and then, upon the bearer, who appeared to 
be somewhat surprised, by the delay. At last, 
Mr. Dexter addressed the stranger in a formal 
manner, and said to him — "I have not the slight- 
est knowledge of the writer of this note, sir." 
The visitor took the note from Mr. Dexter's 
hand, with evident embarrassment, and left the 
office. In the course of the morning, he return- 
ed, accompanied by Col. T. H. Perkins, who in- 
troduced him to Mr. Dexter, as Mr. Harding, 
Attorney General of the State of Mississippi. 
Mr. Dexter gave him his hand, and begged him 
to be seated. This he declined. Mr. Dexter 
then enquired where he might have the pleasure 
of calling upon him. To this Mr. Harding re- 
plied, that he would not give him that trouble, 
as he was upon the point of leaving the city; and, 


bowmg civilly to Mr. Dexter, retired from the 
office. It seems that Mr. Harding's name alone 
was upon the face of the note, without any desig- 
nation of his official position; and some person, 
unauthorized, a thing by no means without prec- 
edent, had presumed to offer a letter of intro- 
duction to Mr. Dexter. 

Mr. Dexter flattered no man; and no man 
more steadily followed the precept of Lord 
Mansfield, to he entirely contented with the pop- 
ularity, that followed him, and to seek no other. 

He had a strong dislike to multitudinous gath- 
erings, and mass meetings, collected, ostensibly, 
perhaps, for some worthy object; but liable to 
be diverted, from their original purpose. 
During a drunken riot, on Boston Common, be- 
tween forty and fifty years ago, upon election 
day, I heard him say, that vast and promiscuous 
assemblies of men, crafty demagogues, and 
ardent spirit were enough, at any time, to turn 
the world upside down. He entertained, and 
often expressed, his strong convictions, in rela- 
tion to the powerful agency of ardent spirit, in 
sapping the constitutions, not only of individu- 
als, but of states and empires. He accounted 
these words of Jefferson, the words of truth and 
soberness : 

The habit of using ardent spirit, by men in 
public office, has occasioned more injury to the 
public service, and more trouble to me, than any 
other circumstance, which has occurred, during 
my administration. And, were I to commence 
my administration again, with the knowledge, 
which from experience, I have acquired, the first 
question, which I would ask, with regard to 
every candidate, for public office, would be — is 
he addicted to the use of ardent spirit ? 

24 sigma's reminiscences 

A saying of Mr. Dexter has often been repeat- 
ed — a Give me the money, paid for the support of 
drunken paupers, in the United States, and I will 
pay the expenses of the Federal and of every 
State government, in the Union; and, in a few 
years, become as rich, with the surplus, as the 
Xabob of Arcot." Mr. Dexter was the first 
President of the Massachusetts State Temperance 

This, as is well known, was the earliest confed- 
eration, in behalf of temperance, in this Common- 
wealth. Drunkenness, at that period, some four 
and forty years ago, was not only a venial offence, 
but so very common, that no man was accounted 
"the worse for liquor," until he had been extricat- 
ed, more than once, from the gutter. Extreme 
and constant familiarity had bred contempt, not 
for the degrading habit, but for every species of 
admonition and rebuke. Drunkards hicupped in 
the Senate and the forum ; in the chambers of dis- 
ease and death; and even in the sacred desk. In 
these days of comparative purification, this latter 
assertion may appear extravagant. Professor 
Woods of Andover, in a letter to Dr. Edwards, 
observes, that, when he entered the ministry, 
"at ordinations, councils, and all other meetings 
of ministers, different kinds of stimulating drinks 
were provided, and there were few, who did not 
partake of them." He adds, that, before the 
reformation commenced, he could count up 
nearly forty ministers, at no great distance, who 
were either drunkards, or, by their intemperate 
habits, had, in a great degree, destroyed their 
reputation and usefulness ; and, that, at an ordina- 
tion, to which he refers, he was "ashamed and 


grieved, to see two aged ministers literally drunk, 
and a third indecently excited with strong drink." 
It is impossible to withhold our tribute of re- 
spect, from any man, whose moral courage ena- 
bled him to take the lead, in such an enterprize, 
against the passions and appetites, not only of 
the lower classes, but of thousands, in the higher 
ranks of society; encountering the ridicule of 
some, and the hatred of others. And it would 
be a grave omission, while contemplating the 
character of Mr. Dexter, to be silent, in regard 
to an act of honorable independence, which 
proves him to have held his own personal popu- 
larity of little account, in comparison with the 
moral weal of his fellow men. 

26 sigma's reminiscences 

No. IV. 

It has been supposed, by some persons, that 
Mr. Dexter was constitutionally cold and repul- 
sive. Belted about, in its panoply of ice and 
snow, Mount Hecla is cold, externally; but no 
one questions the calorific principle within; nor 
its ability, upon certain occasions, to pour forth 
a fiery torrent. He has been called unsocial. 
This was not so. He was social, as far as the 
grave and engrossing occupations of his life al- 
lowed him to be so. He was not convivial. An 
accessible and well-spread table is a very effec- 
tive agent, in supporting the popularity of any 
man. There are many gentlemen, of easy virtue, 
who love to be well fed, at small cost; who will 
drink any given quantity of wine ; and who are 
sufficiently grateful, to speak well of their enter- 
tainer, durante vita. He, who, possessing the 
means, neglects to avail himself of these appli- 
ances, in a certain meridian, is a man of courage. 
Mr. Dexter was of that number. He was no 
Amphytrion. That commune vinculum, the links 
whereof are sumptuous dinners and suppers, was 
a lengthening chain, for the brightening of 
which he had neither the time nor the inclination. 
I have heard him say, that he had neither "the 
taste nor the leisure for keeping tavern." 

Nothing can be more untrue, than to say of 
Mr. Dexter, that he was cold. "I am persuad- 


ed," said Judge Story, "that nature had given 
him uncommon strength of passions. The nat- 
ural characteristics of his mind were fervor and 
force ; and, left to the mere workings of his own 
genius, he would have "been impetuous and ve- 
hement. But he seemed early to have assumed 
the mastery of his mind; to have checked its 
vivid movements, by habitual discipline; and 
bound his passions, in the adamantine chains of 
logic and reasoning." 

He certainly possessed the power, in an emi- 
nent degree, of stirring the passions and emo- 
tions of those around him. "He has sometimes 
let loose the enthusiasm of his genius," said the 
great man, whom I have just now quoted, "and 
touched, with a master's hand, every chord of 
the passions, and alternately astonished, delight- 
ed, and melted his hearers." Those, who have 
listened to Mr. Dexter, only while arguing a dry, 
commercial question, or any one of his embargo 
cases, can form no just idea of his gigantic pow- 
ers of oratory. "In no situation," said Judge 
Story, "have the admirable talents of Mr. Dex- 
ter appeared, with more unclouded lustre, than in 
his attendance on the Supreme Court, at Wash- 
ington. For several years, he passed the winters 
there, under engagements in the most important 
causes. Rarely did he speak, without attracting 
an audience, composed of the taste, the beauty, 
the wit, and the learning, that adorned the city; 
and never was he heard, without instruction and 
delight. On some occasions, involuntary tears, 
from the whole audience, have testified the 
touching powers of his eloquence and pathos. 
On others, a profound and breathless silence ex- 

28 sigma's reminiscences 

pressed, more forcibly, than any human lan- 
guage, the rivetted attention of an hundred 
minds. " 

One occasion is deeply impressed upon my 
memory, upon which he literally adopted the rule, 
which Horace lays down, for those, who would 
draw tears, from the eyes of others — 

-Si vis me flere, dolendum est 

Primum, ipsi tibi.- 

It was in a case of divorce, which excited very 
general attention, at the time ; and of which I 
shall say little, at present, as I shall refer to it 
hereafter. I never saw Mr. Dexter so thorough- 
ly excited, in the presence of a public assem- 
blage, saving on one other occasion: — then he 
was moved by indignation, for a personal affront 
— upon the present, by sympathy, for his deeply 
injured client. His features, though flushed with 
excitement, were perfectly composed; but his 
eyes were suffused with tears : — tears were shed, 
by the assembled multitude; and I well remem- 
ber to have seen the Chief Justice, Parsons, 
wipe his eyes, with a corner of that everlasting 
bandanna, which has not been accounted be- 
neath the dignity of history. (1) 

No : Mr. Dexter was not cold. It may be mat- 
ter of surprise, for those, who never think of 
him, but as a lawyer and a statesman, to be as- 
sured, that he was a poet also. But this is no 
unusual thing. I have been long well satisfied, 
that, if every eminent barrister were put to the 
torture, he would finally confess, that, at some 

1. Allen's Biog. Die, article Parsons. 


period of his life, he had dealt, in a small way 
perhaps, in metre and rhyme. Examples, with- 
out number, may he cited, in confirmation of 
this opinion. Mr. AVebster's effusions are to be 
seen in young ladies 7 albums. Mr. J. Q. Adams 
wrote some clever lines, in early life; and, in af- 
ter time, has given us his Dermot McMorrough. 
Judge Stoiy tried his hand, at odes and mono- 
dies. Mr. Dexter, when a junior sophister, at 
Cambridge, delivered a poem, April 21st, 1780, 
entitled the Progress of Science. It contained 
one hundred and seventy lines, in heroic meas- 
ure. There is a short prefix, as follows — "It is 
humbly presumed, that the youth of the author 
will be esteemed, by the candid, a sufficient apol- 
ogy, for any juvenile errors, in the following 
poem." At that early period, his ambition was 
clearly poetical. How little could he have 
dreamt of his future celebrity, and of the sphere, 
in which it would be achieved, when he thus, on 
the first page of this performance, dedicated his 
talents to the muses— 

Me vero primum dukes ante omnia Musas, 
Quarum sacra fero, ingenti perculsus amore, 

His estimate of this production, some thirty 
years afterwards, may be inferred, from the fol- 
lowing incident. A copy had come into my pos- 
session. I took it to the office, and showed it to 
Mr. Dexter. He read it attentively. Before he 
had finished the perusal, I left the office, for an 
hour, requesting him to put it in some safe place, 
where nobody could get it. On my return, I en- 
quired where it was ; he said he had complied 


with my request ; and put it where nobody could 
get it, pointing to the grate. He had put it in 
the fire. Upon the expression of my surprise and 
displeasure, he laughed heartily, and assured me, 
that, if he should ever find another copy, I should 
have it. The copy, now before me, was obtained 
from the Boston Athenaeum. The versification 
is harmonious ; and there are passages, which, 
from a youth of nineteen, foreshadow the coming 
man. It commences thus — 

Let martial souls, whom wild ambition warms, 
The trumpet's clangor, and rude din of arms, 
Point out the path victorious heroes trod, 
The pest of nations, and the scourge of God; 
Mine be the task, in humbler verse to trace 
The real greatness of the human race. 

Although there is no exact resemblance, the 
classical reader may recall the commencement 
of the first elegy of Tibullus, while reading this 

Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro, 
Et teneat culti jugera multa soli, 
Quern labor assiduus vicino terreat hoste, 
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent— 
Me mea paupertas, etc. 

I refer, of course, rather to the construction, 
than the sentiment. A few lines may serve to 
exhibit the complexion of the writer's mind, at 
that early period of his life. 

Age after age, in one sad tenor ran, 

A blank — a chasm, in the page of man. 

Men drudg'd their labor'd dulness to rehearse, 

To form an anagram, or egg in verse ; 

They stifled genius with pedantic rules, 

And labor'd hard to prove that they were fools. 

No mighty task, though labor'd in so long, 

Each line was proof, was demonstration strong. 

And men, oh dulness, to perfection brought ! 


Blush'd to be guilty of a noble thought. 

Yet, in this gloom did Roger Bacon rise. 

Like lightning flashing through the clouded skies; 

He burst the barriers of pedantic rules, 

And all the iabor'd jargon of the schools. 

As forked lightnings, with their hasty light, 

Serve but to show the horrors of the night, 

So he but show'd the dulness of the age, 

A stain, a blot, upon historic page. 

Mr. Dexter, it will be remembered, was, at this 
time, a very young man, not having attained the 
period of majority. 

32 sigma's reminiscences 

No. V. 

Sir William Blackstone took a final farewell of 
his muse, in metre and rhyme. Mr. Dexter, 
like Mr. Adams, appears to have cherished the 
acquaintance; and to have kept a Pegasus, for 
occasional recreation, long after he became in- 
volved, in professional and political affairs. 

A valued friend of mine, whose father was a 
client of Mr. Dexter's, and whose extensive spec- 
ulations in real estate, had proved extremely un- 
fortunate, near the close of his life, addressed a 
note to me, a few weeks since, in reply to some 
enquiries of mine; and I shall now present a 
copy to the reader : 

"Boston. Nov. 17, 1856. 

My Dear Friend: The conversation we held, 
this morning, respecting the late Hon. Samuel 
Dexter, whose memory we mutually hold in 
great respect and esteem, revives some pleasing 
incidents of my intercourse with him, in 1815, 
when sojourning in Washington, to attend he- 
fore the Commissioners of the United States, 
convened there, to hear and decide on the claims 
of certain Georgia land companies, whose settle- 
ment the United States had assumed. Before 
leaving Boston, Mr. Dexter kindly offered to aid 
me, in a conflicting claim of some importance, 
to come before the Commissioners, in "behalf of 
the heirs of an aged relative of mine. I daily 


met Mr. Dexter, before the board, and often vis- 
ited his lodgings. One day, after dinner, I offer- 
ed, for his perusal, some lines, loaned to me by 
a relative of Dr. Rush, of Philadelphia, and by 
him addressed to his wife, Mrs. Julia Rush, some 
years before, and during his last sickness. Mr. 
D. seemed pleased with them, and requested me 
to allow him to take them to his chamber, for a 
short time. In the course of the afternoon he 
returned them to me, with several verses, in sim- 
ilar metre, addressed to Mary, instead of Julia. 
You will find a copy of them, in the manuscript 
volume, sent herewith, with an argument by 
him, on the immortality of the soul, which I 
suppose you are familiar with. 

In the lapse of forty-one years, much that in- 
terested and instructed me, in my intercourse 
with Mr. Dexter, has escaped my memory; and 
when you know, that I am now twenty years 
older than he was, at the time of his decease, in 
1816, you will readily account for my forgetful- 
ness. Yet I have not forgotten his friendship, for 
my father, in his troubles, when I was a mere 
boy. On one occasion, my father took me with 
him to visit Mr. Dexter, at Charlestown, to be- 
speak his aid, in an important case, expected 
soon to come on. After the interview, my fath- 
er told me, with tears in his eyes, of the kind 
manner of his reception, and of Mr. Dexter's 
prompt refusal to receive any fee or compensa- 
tion, either then, or for his promised aid in 
court. Yours truly, Henry Newman." 

These verses, prepared by Mr. Dexter, upon 
the instant, have never been published, and, if 
they were otherwise valueless, which they are 

34 sigma's reminiscences 

not, they are entitled to preservation, as a litera- 
ry curiosity : 

"to mart. 

Say, Memory, who, in early days, 
Charm'd most my heart, in childish plays; 
Whose features fixed my ling 'ring gaze? 

My Mary's. 
As sober manhood onward came, 
Whose soul first taught me friendship's name, 
And kindled still a brighter flame? 

My Mary's. 

Did grief this throbbing heart annoy, 
Whose smile could turn each grief to joy, 
And every anxious fear destroy? 

My Mary's. 

If loth my sorrow to disclose, 
Whose tears, like dewdrops on the rose, 
Stood trembling, for my unknown woes? 
My Mary's. 

Did pleasure then succeed to pain, 
And rapture thrill through every vein, 
Who smil'd, enjoy 'd, and smil'd again? 
My Mary. 

And, when the flowery path we trod, 
Who taught me gratitude to God, 
And fear of his avenging rod? 

My Mary. 

When mutual, holy vows we pass'd, 
Whose melting eyes to heav'n were cast, 
Whose trembling heart throbb'd loud and fast? 
My Mary's. 

Who, since, my every thought employs? 
Who the pure source of sober joys? 
And who the mother of my boys? 
My Mary. 

When wand'rinff through the distant clime, 
Whose image calls me back from crime. 
And chides the tardy steps of time? 
My Mary's. 

Impatient, I no longer roam, 
But hasten to the well known dome — 
Whose magic influence makes it home? 
My Mary's. 


Gay fools disgust and wise ones chide — 
Those shock my sense, and these my pride — 
Who then endears my own fireside? 
My Mary. 

In health, who gently soothes my cares? 
In sickness, who my anguish shares, 
And sends to Heav'n her fervent prayers? 
My Mary. 

And when, in Death's cold arms I sleep, 
Whose eyes with scalding drops will weep, 
And o'er my grave fond vigils keep? 
My Mary's. 

When the archangel's trump shall sound, 
And all the dead be gathered round, 
Who, on this bosom, will be found? 
My Mary. 

And, when the lofty paeans swell, 
Through domes of bliss, where seraphs dwell. 
Who'll say— 'You're here'— and all is well? 
My Mary." 

It would be absurd to apply the thumb screws 
of criticism to this hasty production. The lines 
were produced, for the writer's amusement, in a 
very short space, after dinner; and doubtless, 
more than for any other object, with the view of 
showing the facility, with which such metrical 
trifles could be wrought. 

Dr. Allen, in his Biographical and Historical 
Dictionary, observes of the Hon. Samuel Dex- 
ter, the benefactor of Harvard University, that, 
in his last years, he was deeply engaged, in in- 
vestigating the doctrines of theology. Of his 
son, the subject of these brief remarks, he says : 
"He was established in the belief of Christian- 
ity." As the reverend biographer appears to 
have relied entirely, for his information, on the 
sketch, presented by Judge Story, before the 
grand jurors and the bar, shortly after Mr. Dex- 
ter's decease, it would have been perfectly or- 

36 sigma's reminiscences 

thodox, to have given his readers the benefit of 
the following discriminating passage : "His stud- 
ies," says Judge Story, "were not altogether of 
a professional nature. He devoted much time 
to the evidences and doctrines of Christianity; 
and his faith in its truths was fixed, after the 
most elaborate enquiries. That he was most 
catholic and liberal in his views, is known to us 
all; but, except to his intimate friends, it is little 
known, how solicitous he was to sustain the 
credibility of the Christian system; and how in- 
genuous and able were his expositions of its 

The Rev. Dr. Channing, in the course of his 
remarks, on "the long lost work of John Mil- 
ton," observed of him, substantially, that, were 
he living, he would not, probably, identify him- 
self entirely, with any existing denomination of 
religious worshippers; nor subscribe, without 
qualification, to any particular creed, or articles 
of faith. Mr. Dexter' s religious opinions, though, 
in the main, concurrent with those of his Unita- 
rian friends, were, in some respects, peculiar. 

Whatever the subject matter of contemplation 
might be, whether of the present, or the future, 
it is not more surprising, that the powers of his 
extraordinary mind should enable him to take a 
far-reaching and comprehensive view, beyond 
the ken of ordinary optics — than that the gigan- 
tic telescopes of Herschell and Rosse should sur- 
pass all others, in their powers of celestial in- 

I have now before me Mr. Dexter's "thoughts 
on the immortality of the soul." The argument 
is one of great ability; and furnishes a charac- 


teristic specimen of his style of reasoning. I re- 
gret, that, although it covers no more than some 
half a dozen manuscript pages, its incorporation 
here is incompatible with the limits which I have 
prescribed for myself, on the present occasion. 
By offering a sample of this production, I may 
possibly remind the reader of the man, recorded 
by Hierocles, who exhibited a brick, as a sample 
of the house, which he had for sale : — 

It is objected, that we know not the manner, 
in which a human being, after death, can be 
awakened to life. I answer, supposing it to be 
true we are to live again, yet we can know noth- 
ing about it, for want of the means of knowledge. 
Where there can exist no experience, there can 
exist no knowledge; and probability is all that it 
is possible to obtain. The inability of a blind 
man to discover colors, does not disprove their 
existence. Even when we have experience of 
facts, we often know nothing of the cause or 
manner of their production. When any one will 
tell me how an oak is produced from an acorn, 
I will tell him how an immortal being is pro- 
duced from a man. Probably the successive 
stages of man's existence are produced by the 
regular operation of Nature's laws, which are as 
capable of being understood by Superior Intelli- 
gence, as the evident process of vegetation, by 
which a beautiful flower rises from the dust of 
the earth. We know not how — perhaps our next 
stage of being may be only preparatory to an- 
other; and the time may arrive, when to us Na- 
ture will be no longer a mystery. But, at pres- 
ent, we are so constantly reminded of our igno- 
rance, that an objection, founded on the presump- 
tion, that we know the system of things, and the 
manner of Nature's operations, future as well as 
present, cannot outweigh the strong probability, 
which results from the foregoing observations. 

38 sigma's reminiscences 

The "foregoing observations" constitute the 
main argument, of which the preceding passage 
forms the conclusion. These "thoughts, on the 
immortality of the soul," were not designed for 
publication; but, as I have understood, were 
written, for the satisfaction, and at the request 
of a particular friend. 


No. VI. 

If ever the professional dictum — cuique in sua 
arte credendum est — was entitled to respect, it 
must be so accounted, when Daniel Webster, 
fourteen years after the decease of Samuel Dex- 
ter, and in presence of the Senate of the United 
States, bore the most honorable testimony to the 
grandeur of his intellectual and professional 
powers. On the 26th day of January, 1830, Mr. 
Webster delivered his magnificent oration. I refer 
to his second speech, on Mr. Foot's resolution. 
When he came to that point, in his argument, 
at which the consideration of the embargo law 
arose, he uttered this memorable language : 

"Being fully of opinion, that the embargo law 
was unconstitutional, the people of New Eng- 
land were yet equally clear in the opinion, that 
the question, after all, must be decided by the 
judicial tribunals of the United States. Before 
those tribunals, therefore, they brought the ques- 
tion. Under the provisions of the law, they had 
given bonds, to millions in amount, and which 
were alleged to be forfeited. They suffered the 
bonds to be sued, and thus raised the question. 
In the old fashioned way of settling disputes, 
they went to law. The case came to hearing and 
solemn argument; and he, who espoused their 
cause, and stood up for them, against the valid- 
ity of the embargo act, was none other than that 
great man, of whom the gentleman has made 
honorable mention, Samuel Dexter. 

He was then, sir, in the fulness of his knowl- 

40 sigma's reminiscences 

edge, and the maturity of his strength. He had 
retired from long and distinguished public ser- 
vice here, to the renewed pursuit of professional 
duties, carrying with him all that enlargement 
and expansion, all the new strength and force, 
which an acquaintance with the more general 
subjects, discussed in the national councils, is 
capable of adding to professional attainment, in 
a mind of true greatness and comprehension. 
He was a lawyer, and he was also a statesman. 
He had studied the Constitution, when he filled 
public station, that he might defend it; he had 
examined its principles, that he might maintain 
them. More than all men, or at least as much 
as any man, he was attached to the general gov- 
ernment, and to the union of the States. His 
feelings and opinions all ran in that direction. 
A question of constitutional law, too, was, of all 
subjects, that one, which was best suited to his 
talents and learning. Aloof from technicality, 
and unfettered by artificial rule, such a question 
gave opportunity, for that deep and clear analy- 
sis, that mighty grasp of principle, which so 
much distinguished his higher efforts. His very 
statement was argument ; his inference seemed 
demonstration. The earnestness of his own 
conviction wrought conviction in others. One 
was convinced, and believed, and assented, be- 
cause it was gratifying, delightful, to think, and 
feel, and believe, in unison with an intellect of 
such evident superiority. Mr. Dexter, sir, such 
as I have described him, argued the New Eng- 
land cause. He put into his effort his whole 
heart, as well as all the powers of his understand- 
ing; for he had avowed, in the most public man- 
ner, his entire concurrence with his neighbors, 
on the point in dispute. He argued the cause; 
it was lost; and New England submitted. The 
established tribunals pronounced the law consti- 
tutional, and New England acquiesced." 

From one, so competent to judge, and who 
seems to have lingered on his way, to pronounce 


this encomium, upon his great predecessor—for 
the argument would not have suffered for the 
omission — such honest and elevated praise is 
enough for posterity. Similis simili gaudet; and 
the great heart of the orator could not resist the 
temptation to say thus much of one, whose in- 
tellectual, and almost anomalous, powers so 
closely resembled his own. 

By the side of these remarks of Mr. Webster, 
we may place the testimony of another witness, 
of whose competency, no man will doubt. Af- 
ter speaking of the "moral sublimity of his rea- 
soning," Judge Story proceeds, as follows : 

"He opened his arguments, in a progressive 
order, erecting each successive position, upon 
some other, whose solid mass he had already es- 
tablished, on an immovable foundation; till, at 
last, the superstructure seemed, by its height 
and ponderous proportions, to bid defiance to 
the assaults of human ingenuity. I am aware, 
that these expressions may be deemed the exag- 
gerations of fancy, but I only describe what I 
have felt, on my own mind; and I gather from 
others, that I have not been singular, in my feel- 

No one will pretend to claim, for Mr. Dexter, 
that he was profoundly learned in the law. In 
his day, the impression prevailed, that he read 
few professional books. Such, comparing his 
application, in this respect, with that of many, 
even among his juniors, was undoubtedly true. 
Whatever may have been the quantity of his 
professional aliment, it was very evident, that he 
masticated it thoroughly, and digested it well. 
He was conscious of this existing impression; 
and I have heard him say, that he read much 


more, than lie had credit for. The observations 
of Judge Story are, doubtless, correct, that — 

"In general acquirements, he was unquestion- 
ably inferior to many; and, even in professional 
science, he could scarcely be considered as very 
profound, or very learned. He had a disinclina- 
tion to the pages of black lettered law, which he 
sometimes censured, as the scholastic refinements 
of monkish ages ; and, even for the common 
branches of technical science, the doctrines of 
special pleading, and the niceties of feudal ten- 
ures, he professed to feel little of love or rever- 

I will not resist the temptation to cite farther 
from the remarks of this critical observer : 

"His delight was to expatiate in the elements 
of jurisprudence, and to analyze and combine 
the great principles of equity and reason, which 
distinguish the branches of maritime law. In 
commercial causes, therefore, he shone with pe- 
culiar advantage. His comprehensive mind was 
familiar with all the leading distinctions of this 
portion of law; and he marked out, with won- 
derful sagacity and promptitude, the almost 
evanescent boundaries, which sometimes separ- 
ate its principles. Indeed, it may be truly said 
of him, that he could walk a narrow isthmus, 
between opposing doctrines, when no man dared 
to follow him. The law of prize and of nations 
was also adapted to his faculties ; and none, who 
heard him upon these topics, but was compelled 
to confess, that, if he was not always convinc- 
ing, he was always ingenious ; and, that, when 
he attempted to shake a settled rule, though he 
might be wrong, upon authority and practice, 
he was rarely wrong, upon the principles of in- 
ternational justice. 

In short, there have been men, more thor- 
oughly imbued with all the fine tinctures of clas- 
sic taste ; men of more playful and cultivated 


imaginations; of more deep and accurate re- 
search; of more varied and finished learning. 
But, if the capacity to examine a question, by 
the most comprehensive analysis; to subject all 
its relations to the test of the most subtle logic; 
and to exhibit them, in perfect transparency, to 
the minds of others ; — if the capacity to detect, 
with an unerring judgment, the weak points of 
an argument, and to strip off every veil from 
sophistry or error; — if the capacity to seize, as it 
were by intuition, the learning and arguments of 
others, and instantaneously to fashion them to 
his own purposes; — if, I say, these constitute 
some of the highest prerogatives of genius, it 
will be difficult to find many rivals or superiors 
to Mr. Dexter. In the sifting and comparison of 
evidence, and in moulding its heterogeneous ma- 
terials into one consistent mass, the bar and the 
bench have pronounced him almost inimitable." 

While contemplating these high encomiums, 
the reader will not fail to estimate aright the ele- 
vated source, from whence they flow. 

I desire here to say a few additional words, in 
regard to the termination of Mr. Dexter's public 
services, after the accession of Mr. Jefferson, in 
1801. Judge Story, as I have stated, says: "Up- 
on the accession of Mr. Jefferson to the Presi- 
dency, he resigned his public employments." Mr. 
Jefferson became President, March 4, 1801, and 
Mr. Dexter continued to act, as Secretary of the 
Treasury, until Jan. 26, 1802, or for nearly eleven 
months after Mr. Jefferson's accession. Judge 
Story may have meant to say, that Mr. Dexter 
tendered his resignation, to take effect, at a fu- 
ture day, or when it might suit the Executive. 
He certainly did not resign, and quit the office, 
instanter, nor until the date I have specified. 
Now, there is an opinion, with some, that he 

44 sigma's reminiscences 

never did resign, but was removed, by Mr. Jef- 
ferson. The appointment of Mr. Gallatin was, 
of course, the virtual removal of Mr. Dexter. 
But it was never suggested, I believe, that there 
was any thing ungracious, or discourteous, in 
this act of the Executive. As a Federalist, Mr. 
Dexter could neither have expected nor desired 
to become, permanently, a member of the Dem- 
ocratic cabinet. It has been surmised, that it 
might have been deemed expedient, for political 
reasons, to cast the responsibility of removal, 
upon the President. It is certainly reasonable 
to suppose, that a perfectly good understanding 
existed, between Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Dexter — 
that the latter was not permanently to continue 
in the cabinet; but that he would remain, until 
the former saw fit to appoint a successor. 

Mr. Dexter was appointed, by Mr. Adams, to 
the treasury, two months only before the end of 
his administration. Of all the appointments, 
made by Mr. Adams, near the close of his term, 
Mr. Jefferson complained. In the first month of 
his administration, he wrote thus to Mr. Gerry : 

"Mr. Adams's last appointments, when he 
knew he was appointing counsellors and aids for 
me, not for himself, I set aside, as far as de- 
pends on me. * * * * Those, who have 
acted well, have nothing to fear, however they 
may have differed from me, in opinion." (1) 

1 Benton's Thirty Years' View, Vol. I, page 161. 


No. VII. 

At the time, when Mr. Dexter was appointed 
Secretary of the Treasury, and just before the 
accession of Mr. Jefferson, party spirit had be- 
come rampant. It will be difficult to point to 
any other period, in the history of the country, 
since the revolution, during which the struggle, 
for the ascendency, was carried on, with a more 
reckless disregard of decency and truth. Cal- 
lender, the most audacious political liar of the 
age — facile princeps — was notoriously rewarded 
by Mr. Jefferson; and Paine, the slanderer of 
Washington, received a foreign embassy.(l) 

On the 8th of November, 1800, a fire broke 
out, in the building, occupied, as the war office, 
and another, on the 20th of January, 1801, in the 
office of the treasury department. Insinuations, 
and even charges, of the most atrocious charac- 
ter, were made, in the Aurora, and echoed back, 
from most of the Jacobin presses, through the 
country, against Oliver Wolcott, and Samuel 
Dexter, amounting to nothing less, than that 
these gentlemen were incendiaries, and had, 
themselves, set fire to these buildings. Ludi- 
crous, as these charges appear to us, at the pres- 
ent day, they were frequently repeated, at the 
time. It may seem scarcely worth the labor, to 

1 Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington 
and Adams. Vol. II., page 483. 

46 sigma's reminiscences 

review the subject, at this distant period; but 
slander is a vivacious weed, often reappearing, 
after its extirpation had been supposed com- 
plete; and requiring occasional care, to keep it 
from springing up afresh, in after time. 

These fires, occurring within so brief a space, 
might well enough excite surprise; but nothing, 
short of the bitterest party venom, could have 
induced Duane, and his reckless associates, to 
impute one of the highest crimes, known to the 
law, to two gentlemen of the fairest character, 
and the highest social position; instead of resort- 
ing, in the first instance, to natural causes, which 
clearly explained the catastrophe, when an of- 
ficial investigation was subsequently made. 

Writing to his wife, on the 12th of November^ 
1800, from Washington, Mr. Wolcott says— "A 
few days since, the War Office caught fire. 
Every book and paper of the Secretary's office 
was lost. The papers of the accountant's office 
were principally saved. Mr. Dexter and family 
arrived, the evening of the fire, and all escaped 
imminent danger of death, at Georgetown, by 
the overthrow and entire demolition of his car- 
riage." It appears from Mr. Wolcott's letter, 
that Mr. Dexter did not arrive in Washington, 
till after the fire, and that the papers of the 
accountant's office were principally saved. 

Mr. Wolcott, whose integrity was above all just 
reproach, retired from the treasury department, 
after Nov. 22, 1800. Mr. Dexter was appointed 
Secretary of the Treasury, in January, 1801, and 
the treasury office was burnt, on the 20th of that 
month. The Jacobinical slander, in that case, 
was therefore directed against Mr. Wolcott. A 


committee of investigation was appointed, by 
the House of Representatives, on the 10th of 
February following. A majority of this commit- 
tee were opponents of the administration of Mr. 
Adams. Messrs. Nicholas, Macon, Livingston, 
Gallatin, Varnum, Harper, and Wain, composed 
that committee. After careful examination, they 
"report, on the general result of their enquiries, that 
it is probable the fire in the tear department was com- 
municated, from the fire place, in the adjoining 
house ; and that there is no evidence whatever, on 
which to found a suspicion of its originating, in 
negligence or design." 

" A suit," says Mr. Gibbs, in his memoirs of 
the Federal Administrations, vol. 2, page 481, 

" Was trumped up against Mr. Dexter, in the 
name of the individual, who owned the building, 
in which the war office was situated, the real 
object of which was a political one. * * * 
* The Mr. Joseph Hodgson, who appeared, 
as plaintiff, on the record, was but the catspaw 
of more distinguished personages. The refuta- 
tion of these slanders, however, is to be found, 
in public opinion. There, no impression was 
ever made by them, beyond the contracted list 
of those, who, capable of such acts themselves, 
were ready to suspect any and all, of similar 
knavery. And, had further disproof been want- 
ing, it was given by the searching but unavail- 
ing investigations of men, not unwilling to de- 
tect, in the acts of their predecessors, the means 
of their more complete destruction." 

Hodgson's suit, which is reported, in Cranch I., 
345, was brought to recover the value of the 
building, in which the war office had been kept. 
The Circuit Court gave judgment for the de- 
fendant. The plaintiff prosecuted his writ of er- 

48 sigma's reminiscences 

ror; and C. J. Marshall delivered the opinion of 
the whole court, who were unanimous, against 

After the decision of such a committee of in- 
vestigation; and the termination of Hodgson's 
suit, by the unanimous opinion of the whole Su- 
preme Judicial Court of the United States, in fa- 
vor of the defendant; it might reasonably be 
supposed, that the tongue of slander would have 
been effectually paralyzed. Whoever supposed 
so must have known little of the character of 
the Boston Chronicle, — or of its reckless and 
proverbial mendacity ; or of that spirit of per- 
sonal and political animosity, long cherished by 
the evil genius of the fountain, towards Samuel 
Dexter. In that paper, such notices, as the fol- 
lowing, were repeatedly inserted — 

"Remember, Mr. Secretary Dexter has TWICE 
burnt the Public Offices in Washington, to con- 
ceal the iniquity practised therein. 

Remember he first burnt the War Office with 
all its papers ; and afterwards the Office of the 
Secretary of State!" 

The miserable victim of his own ungovernable 
passions, who penned and published these 
atrocious lies, meant, probably, to refer to the 
office of the Secretary of the Treasury, which 
was burnt, and not to that of the Secretary of 

At the period, already referred to, after the ac- 
cession of Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Dexter returned to 
his professional vocation. The passua retrorsum 
are seldom taken successfully, by men, who, for 
any considerable period, have relinquished the 
forum, for the political arena. Such, however, 


seemed not to be the case with Mr. Dexter. "It 
is not unusual," said Mr. Justice Story, in his 
address to the grand jurors and the oar, on the 
occasion of Mr. Dexter' s death, 

"for men of eminence, after having withdrawn, 
a few years, from the bar, to find it difficult, if 
not impracticable, to resume their former rank 
in business. Nothing of this sort occurred, to 
check the progress of Mr. Dexter. He was im- 
mediately engaged, in almost ail important cau- 
ses, in our highest courts; and popular favor 
seemed to have increased, rather than dimin- 
ished, during his temporary retirement. From 
the triumphs and victories of the State bar, his 
reputation soon carried him to the Supreme 
Court of the United States, where it has been my 
pride and pleasure, for many years, to have seen 
him holding his career, in "the foremost rank of 
advocates. This would entitle him to no ordina- 
ry praise; for that bar has been long distin- 
guished, by the presence of many of the most il- 
lustrious lawyers in the Union."* 

A lawyer, however distinguished in his day, 
and however extensively occupied in his profes- 
sion, unless his speeches and arguments are 
faithfully reported, or written out and published; 
or unless he becomes an author, in some depart- 
ment of jurisprudence, or of letters generally — if 
in other words, he relies upon his tongue alone, 
for fame, and not upon his pen — is very apt, 
like the fashion of this world, to pass away, and 
be forgotten. When I remember the crowds, 
who thronged to listen, upon so many occasions, 
when it was known, that Samuel Dexter was to 
speak; and when I recall the impression produc- 
ed by his eloquence; and the irresistible force of 
his dialectical efforts ; and how powerfully they 

50 sigma's reminiscences 

affected the minds, of all who heard them, and 
were capable of following him along, and laying 
their intellectual fingers, if I may use such an 
expression, upon one link, after another, of the 
chain of his argument, until the conclusion 
opened upon their view, and filled their minds 
with a mixture of pleasure and surprise ; when I 
remember how, for weeks and months, the effect 
of any one of his masterly arguments continued to 
engross the thoughts of every competent listen- 
er; and to furnish the first topic of conversation 
for those, who heard him, as they afterwards 
casually met; when I cast my thoughts back 
upon these things, I am amazed, at the meagre- 
ness of all, that remains to us, of the labors of 
that gigantic brain. The remark of Judge Story, 
when speaking of this great man's definition of 
patriotism, may be applied io the entire mass of 
his intellectual achievements — "It is deeply to 
be regretted, that his just and elevated views are 
now confined to the frail memories of those, who 
heard him." 

The same remark, applies to his ordinary, or 
rather, to his extraordinary conversation; and I 
have often regretted, that I did not commit to 
my commonplace book some memoranda of 
all those sayings, which have fallen from his 
lips, during those three years, when it was my 
fortune to meet him, from day to day. The 
common talk of such men, whose minds have 
been severely and habitually disciplined, for 
years, is far better entitled to preservation, than 
a very large proportion of that elaborate ma- 
terial, which daily issues from a much en- 
during press. Among the correspondence of 


Mr. Webster, there is a passage, so very perti- 
nent, that I will introduce it here : 

"Mr. Gore, Mr. King, Mr. Mason, the Buck- 
minsters, father and son, Chief Justice Marshall, 
Chancellor Kent, Judge Story, Mr. Madison, 
Samuel Dexter, Mr. Gaston, &c, &c, have all 
said things, worthy to be remembered; and yet 
only some of them have left anything valuable 
on record. Of Mr. Ames's conversation I am 
not old enough to have heard much. Jeremiah 
Smith was perhaps the best talker I have been 
acquainted with ; he was full of knowledge of 
books and men, and had a great deal of wit and 
humor; and abhorred silence, as an intolerable 
state of existence. "(2) 

The letter, from which the foregoing passage 
is an extract, was written, in 1849. In this let- 
ter, Mr. Webster expresses a wish, common 
enough, but which, unfortunately, is not apt to 
be felt, until the opportunity for its accomplish- 
ment has gone forever : "I have often wished/' 
says he, "that what has passed, when I have 
been with some eminent men, on some occa- 
sions, could be recalled and preserved." 

2 Webster's Private Correspondence. Vol. II., page 

52 sigma's reminiscences 

No. VIII. 

In his brief sketch of Mr. Dexter, Judge Story 
remarks, that, "though he made no effort to court 
popularity, he was frank, manly, and accessible; 
and, at the bar, conciliatory and respectful." 
His relation to the bench was rather remarkable : 
with the most respectful carriage, towards the 
court, there was a lofty reserve in his deport- 
ment, which, while it ensured their careful atten- 
tion, had the effect of wholesome restraint, upon 
any tendency to interfere with the rights of coun- 
sel, or the full performance of their duties. I 
shall endeavor to make this remark more intelli- 
gible, presently, by several illustrations. No 
man was better entitled to wear the oft repeated 
line of Horace, for his phylactery — 

Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri. 

When addressing the Supreme Court of Mas- 
sachusetts, upon one occasion, and struck by 
what seemed to him a timid and unjustifiable ad- 
herence to precedent, in opposition to the supe- 
rior dictates of reason, he begged them not to 
imitate the old Phoenician navigators, who, al- 
most superstitiously, hugged the shore, and were 
fearful of being shipwrecked, if they ever lost 
sight of their familiar landmarks. "Cut loose," 
said he, with solemn emphasis, "from these an- 
tiquarian technicalities, which have no solid rea- 
son for their foundation, and dare to have sense 


yourselves!" "When these words from Pope's 
prologue to Addison's Cato, were enunciated, in 
that slow and forcible manner, for which the 
speaker was remarkable, a glance at the bench 
could not fail to convince the beholder, that they 
felt themselves in the presence of a master 

Francis Dana resigned the office of Chief Jus- 
tice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachu- 
setts, in 1806, and was succeeded by Theophilus 
Parsons. In the matter of externals, from the 
time of Odo, the first "Chief Justiciae" of Eng- 
land, to the present hour, no two Chief Justices 
have borne less resemblance to each other. 
Judge Dana had a prodigiously English look; 
and was the pattern of neatness and simple ele- 
gance, in his dress, and in his manners, and car- 
riage. Judge Parsons was the reverse of all this. 
In a recent publication, Mr. Webster has given 
the following description of his personal appear- 
ance, in 1804 : 

"His face is not marked by any striking feature, 
if we except his eyes. His forehead is low and 
his eyebrows prominent. He wears a blue coat 
and breeches; worsted hose, a brown wig, with 
a cocked hat. He has a penetrating eye of an 
indescribable color. When, couched under a 
jutting eyebrow, it directs its beams into the face 
of a witness, he feels as if it looked into the in- 
most recesses of his soul. When Parsons in- 
tends to make a learned observation, his eyebrow 
sinks; when a smart one, for he is, and^ wishes 
to be thought, a wit, it rises." 

This description, however, is imperfect. His 
forehead was not low, and Mr. Webster was 
misled, by the brown wig. Dr. Allen's account 

54 sigma's reminiscences 

is more truthful :— "He was of large size, broad, 
and corpulent, with a sallow complexion, and 
heavy appearance. His eyes were blue, tinged 
with hazel gray, and sunk in his head, but, 
sometimes, twinkling bright. His high, smooth 
forehead, was partly covered with a reddish 
skull cap, which he wore, having been bald, 
at the age of thirty. A bandanna handker- 
chief often protected his neck." As I recollect 
his appearance, on the bench, he wore a brown 
wig, which came within some two inches of his 
eyebrows. His whole appearance was ungrace- 
ful and unwieldy; furnishing considerable justi- 
fication, for a wretched and frequently repeated 
pun, upon his name — " Theawfullest Parsons. 7 * 
Mr. Webster's remark — "He is, and wishes to be 
thought, a wit," is certainly correct, in the latter 
branch of it. It may be doubted, surely, wheth- 
er these extra-judicial efforts upon the bench, 
and they were of frequent occurrence, added a 
very great deal to the dignity of the judge, or 
were calculated to advance the appropriate busi- 
ness of the court. Few, I believe, of these ju- 
dicial pleasantries are remembered, compared 
with the number, recorded of the Rev. Mather 
Byles; for the perpetration of which, he sacrificed 
a fractional part of his clerical respectability. 

When Mr. Parsons became Chief Justice, a re- 
markable change took place, in the manner of 
arguing causes ; and a great saving of time was 
anticipated, for the court and the county. Barris- 
ters, under the former regime, had been allowed 
a latitude, whose limit seemed to be entirely un- 
defined. This reformation was certainly desira- 
ble, if conducted with discretion: but bitter com- 


plaints arose in certain quarters; and it was oc- 
casionally said, that more evil than good might 
be expected, from this abrupt and extraordinary 
change. Those gentlemen of the bar, whose 
style of argumentation was close and logical, 
and who were the least prodigal of words, suffer- 
ed the least, from the system of excise, estab- 
lished by the new Chief Justice. But even Mr. 
Dexter was sensible of the effect of this judicial 
festination. In a note, which I received from 
him, in 1813, he assigns as a reason, for not hav- 
ing accomplished a particular act — "t?ie extreme 
pressure of business, at the commencement of a term, 
in which the Chief Justice is driver." Those gen- 
tlemen, on the other hand, whose forensic elo- 
quence knew no bounds, or who had been habit- 
uated, by long indulgence, to unrestricted ampli- 
fication, were sorely annoyed. Mr. Harrison 
Gray Otis, Mr. Fisher Ames, and some other 
members of the bar, whose rare talents were not 
so happily adapted to this condensing discipline, 
were, for a time, extremely ill at ease. 
The Chief Justice was in the habit of addressing, 
very fraternally, all the elder counsellors, who had 
been his associates, at the bar. Often, when Mr. 
Ames, or Mr. Otis, had arrived at a point, at 
which it was intended to introduce some 
choice, and carefully prepared, specimen of 
eloquence, the Chief Justice would interpose, 
with ''brother Ames," or "brother Otis, the Court 
wish to hear no more, on that point; or "you need 
press that no farther ; the Court are satisfied, on that 
point" The effect of these dampers, upon broth- 
er Ames, and brother Otis, was very apparent, 
and amounted almost to strangulation : number- 

56 sigma's reminiscences 

less flowers of rhetoric were thus cut down, and 
withered, before they were fairly opened. On 
one occasion, brother Ames was reported to have 
said, as a pleasantry, of course, slightly tinctur- 
ed with irritation, perhaps, that he would go out, 
and buy a speaking trumpet and a bludgeon, 
and come back, and see if he could not be heard, 
in that court. 

This great lawyer, Mr. Parsons, when he came 
to be Chief Justice, brought with him, to the 
bench, something of the spirit of the old war- 
horse, who, though withdrawn from the battle 
field, pricks up his ears, at the sound of the trum- 
pet, and longs to participate in the charge. He 
had a habit of frequently interrupting an advo- 
cate, and overburthening him with help. This 
practice, which was extremely annoying, was, 
by no means, confined to those members of the 
bar, who might be supposed to stand in need of 
such assistance ; Mason, Otis, Story, Ames, 
Dexter, and others were alike the sufferers. In 
the midst of an argument, and, when the dislo- 
cation of his thoughts must be extremely 
troublesome to the advocate, the Chief Justice 
would say, "Brother Dexter, suppose you take this 
view of it," and then proceed with an argument, 
for five minutes, or more. Mr. Dexter, on such 
occasions, after listening with becoming pa- 
tience, would reply — "That has not escaped me, 
may it please your Honor ; and I shall reach it, 
in the course of my argument." This offensive 
practice, by frequent repetition, became insuffer- 

Upon one occasion, when Mr. Dexter was en- 
gaged in a cause, in which he thought he per- 


ceived a tendency , rather to make, than ad- 
minister, the law; and during the argument of 
which, he had been frequently interrupted, in 
the manner I have described; he gave very in- 
telligible signs of his displeasure. The tones of 
his voice became deeper, bordering on a growl; 
and his words, in reply, when these interruptions 
occurred, were uttered more impulsively. On 
the following day, his argument was resumed; 
and it was not long, before the Chief Justice in- 
terrupted him, in his customary manner. Mr. 
Dexter, after a pause of unusual length, took a 
small volume from his pocket. "May it please 
your Honor," said he, with great solemnity, "I 
will read, with your permission, a few passages 
from the book, which I hold in my hand." 
"What book?" said the Chief Justice, taking 
his pen to make a note of it. "My Lord Bacon's 
Civil and Moral Essays. I read from the fifty 
sixth essay, on Judicature." 

"Judges ought to remember, that their office is 
jus dicere and not jus dare ; to interpret law, and 
not to make law, or give law. Else will it be 
like the authority of the Church of Rome ; which, 
under pretext of exposition of Scripture, doth 
not stick to add and alter; and to pronounce 
that, which they do not find; and by shew of 
antiquity to introduce novelty. Judges ought to 
be more learned than witty; more reverend than 
plausible; and more advised than confident. 
* * * * Patience and gravity of hearing is an 
essential part of justice; and an over speaking 
judge is no well tuned cymbal. It is no grace to 
a judge, first to find that, which he might have 
heard in due time, from the bar; or to shew 
quickness of conceit, in cutting off evidence or 
counsel too short ; or to prevent information, by 
questions, though pertinent." 

58 sigma's reminiscences 

Mr. Dexter quietly replaced the volume in his 
pocket, and proceeded with' his argument, with- 
out any further interruption. 


No. IX. 

It may not be amiss, to record a still more re- 
markable illustration of that resolute and inde- 
pendent bearing, which characterized the rela- 
tion of Mr. Dexter to the bench. His former 
classmate, at College, the Hon. John Davis, pre- 
sided, in the United States District Court, in 
Massachusetts; and the embargo cases, as they 
were called, in which Mr. Dexter was engaged, 
were tried before Judge Davis. On those occa- 
sions, the question of the constitutionality of the 
embargo law came up, as a matter of course; 
and Mr. Dexter' s arguments, upon that question, 
were very elaborate. Judge Davis decided, in 
favor of the constitutionality of the embargo 
law; and that decision was afterwards confirmed, 
by the highest authority. Mr. Dexter, probably, 
never argued, more entirely, in conformity with 
his solemn convictions, than when he contended, 
that this extremely unpopular law was a viola- 
tion of the constitution. The decision of this 
question was of the highest importance. Bonds 
had been given, under the provisions of this law, 
to an enormous amount; and the penalties were 
now claimed, by the Government. 

"Nothing is more certain," says Mr. Webster, 
in his reply to Mr. Hayne, "than that a majori- 
ty, in New England, deemed this law a violation 
of the constitution." * * * * "Here is a 


law, they said, stopping all commerce, and stop- 
ping it indefinitely. The law is perpetual ; that 
is, it is not limited, in point of time, and must, 
of course, continue, until repealed, by some oth- 
.er law. It is as perpetual, therefore, as the law 
against treason, or murder. Now is this regu- 
lating commerce, or destroying it? Is it guid- 
ing, controlling, giving the rule to commerce, as 
a subsisting thing, or is it putting an end to it 
altogether ?" I state these considerations, to ex- 
plain, more fully, to the reader, the motives,which 
urged Mr. Dexter to adopt the extraordinary 
course, towards the presiding judge, which I am 
now to describe. 

After Judge Davis had decided, that the law 
was constitutional, and before that decision had 
been confirmed, by a higher tribunal, Mr. Dex- 
ter persisted, in arguing the question of consti- 
tutionality, to the jury, notwithstanding the re- 
monstrances of the bench. At length, Judge 
Davis, under some excitement, and after repeat- 
ed admonitions, said to Mr. Dexter, that, if he 
again attempted to raise that question to the ju- 
ry, he should feel it to be his duty to commit 
him, for contempt of court. A solemn pause 
ensued; and all eyes were turned towards Mr. 
Dexter. With great calmness of voice and man- 
ner, he requested a postponement of the cause, 
until the following morning. The Judge assent- 
ed; some other matter was taken up; and Mr. 
Dexter left the court room. 

On the following morning, there was a full at- 
tendance of persons, anxious to witness the re- 
sult of this extraordinary collision, between the 
advocate and the Judge. Being asked, if he was 


ready to proceed with the cause, on trial, the 
preceding day, Mr. Dexter rose, and facing the 
bench, commenced his remarks, "by stating, that 
he had slept poorly, and had passed a night of 
great anxiety. He had reflected very solemnly 
upon the occurrence of yesterday; and he trusted 
it had not failed to exercise the thoughts of an- 
other, in all its bearings. No man cherished a 
higher respect, for the legitimate authority of 
those tribunals, before which, he was called to 
practice his profession; but he entertained no 
less respect, for his moral obligations to his cli- 
ents. And, finally, after a few additional re- 
marks, he stated to the court, that he had arrived 
at the clear conviction, that it was his duty to 
argue the constitutional question to the jury, 
notwithstanding the decision of a single judge, 
of an inferior grade ; and that he should proceed 
to do so, regardless of any consequences. He 
then turned to the jury; and, undisturbed by the 
court, began, continued, and ended a most elabo- 
rate argument, against the constitutionality of 
the embargo law. 

It is impossible to pen this account, without 
recurring to a similar incident, recited in the me- 
moir of Thomas Erskine, by Lord Campbell, in 
his lives of the Chancellors of England. Mr. 
Erskine, at the age of 34, was engaged in the 
defence of Dr. Shipley, Dean of St. Asaph, in- 
dicted, most absurdly, as it appeared, for a se- 
ditious libel ; he having caused to be published, 
a pamphlet, entitled " A Dialogue between a 
Gentleman and a Farmer," written by his broth- 
er-in-law, the celebrated Sir William Jones. The 
cause came before Mr. Justice Buller; the jury 

62 sigma's reminiscences 

returned, as their verdict — "guilty of publishing 
only." A singular conversation ensued : Butter, 
J. — "Gentlemen, if you add the word, only, it 
will he negativing the inuendoes." Erskine — 
"I desire your Lordship, sitting here as judge, 
to record the verdict, as given by the jury." 
Butter, J.— "You say he is guilty of publishing 
the pamphlet, and that the meaning of the in- 
uendoes is, as stated in the indictment." Juror — 
"Certainly." Erskine — "Is the word, only, to 
stand as part of the verdict?" Juror — "Cer- 
tainly." Erskine — "Then I insist it shall be re- 
corded." Butter, J. — "Then the verdict must be 
misunderstood; let me understand the jury." 
Erskine — "The jury do understand their ver- 
dict." Butter, J. — "Sir, I will not be interrupt- 
ed." Erskine — "I stand here, as an advocate, 
for a brother citizen; and I desire that the word, 
only, may be recorded." Butter, J. — "Sit down, 
sir; remember your duty, or I shall be obliged to 
proceed, in another manner." Erskine — "Your 
Lordship may proceed in what manner you 
think fit. I know my duty, as well as your 
Lordship knows yours. I shall not alter my 

Upon this, Lord Campbell, now Chief Justice 
of England, has the following commentary : 

" The learned judge took no notice of this reply; 
and, quailing, under the rebuke of his pupil, did 
not repeat the menace of commitment. This 
noble stand, for the independence of the bar, 
would, of itself, have entitled Erskine to the 
statue, which the profession affectionately erect- 
ed to his memory, in Lincoln's Inn Hall. We 
are to admire the decency and propriety of his 
demeanor, during the struggle, no less than its 


spirit and the felicitous precision, with which he 
meted out the requisite and justifiable portions 
of defiance. The example has had a salutary 
effect, in illustrating and establishing the relative 
duties of judge and advocate, in England/' (1) 

One of the greatest obstacles, the very great- 
est, perhaps, in the way of any one, who would 
prepare an elaborate memoir of Samuel Dexter, 
will be found, in the fact, that his arguments and 
speeches, not having been written out by him- 
self, nor carefully reported by others, have, in a 
very great measure, shared the fate of the Sybil- 
line leaves; and are scattered to the winds. It 
is certainly to be regretted, that a little of that 
laudable anxiety, in respect to his posthumous 
fame — a little of that painstaking, in the prepar- 
ation of his speeches and other writings, exhib- 
ited by Mr. Webster, (2) had not operated in the 
case of Mr. Dexter. No unimportant portion of 
almost every biographical memoir, consists of the 
letters, between the subject of the memoir,and his 
correspondents. Few distinguished men, proba- 
bly, have labored, less extensively, in this depart- 
ment. Mr. Dexter had very few correspondents. 
He published no books. He had no ambition to 
lay up treasures, in reviews. The materials there- 
fore, that remain, are scanty, and scattered over 
the pages of reports, Congressional journals, 
newspapers, and magazines. 

It cannot be denied, that Mr. Dexter was re- 
gardless, in no inconsiderable degree, of those 

1 Lord Campbell's Lives of the Lord Chancellors of 
England, vol. vi., page 415. 

2 Webster's Private Correspondence, vol. ii., pages 

64 sigma's reminiscences 

means, which most men, of high professional 
character, are careful to employ, for the perpet- 
uation of their fame. He thought profoundly, 
upon the subjects before him; and poured forth 
the results of his deep reflection, with a clear- 
ness and force, that were irresistible ; but seem- 
ed to take less interest, than others would have 
done, in what became of them afterwards. The 
consciousness of his own producing energies, 
and of his ability to furnish these exhibitions of 
intellectual power, appeared to render him less 
tenacious, in regard to their safe keeping. He 
was cut down suddenly, in the fulness of his rea- 
soning powers, and of his celebrity. Had his 
life been prolonged, a few years, possibly a nat- 
tural regard for posthumous fame might have 
induced him to collect the scattered memorials 
of his distinguished career. 


No. X. 

Upon the trial of Thomas O. Self ridge, for 
manslaughter, Mr. Dexter was associated with 
Mr. Christopher Gore, for the defence. His ar- 
gument, upon that occasion, was revised by him- 
self, and is before the world. It is, nevertheless, 
nothing more than an abridgement; and will 
not, probably, however able, be classed in the 
very foremost rank of Mr. Dexter' s professional 
efforts. His examination of the evidence, in 
which he was preeminently skilful, is omitted, 
altogether, by the publishers. 

If I should select an occasion, upon which Mr. 
Dexter was preeminently eloquent; and when 
his powers, as an advocate, shone forth with the 
greatest brilliancy ; and produced the most ex- 
traordinary impression upon the court, the bar, 
and the assembled multitude; I should select the 
very occasion, upon which, from the nature of 
the case, and the character of the opposing 
counsel, his great success could not have been 
anticipated, by those, who, however ready to ac- 
knowledge his supremacy, in the matter of dia- 
lectics, were unconscious of the full measure of 
his power, over the passions of his auditors. 

More than forty years ago, the Supreme Judi- 
cial Court of Massachusetts was engaged, in a 
highly interesting and exciting trial, in this city, 
founded on a libel for divorce. The parties were 

66 sigma's keminiscences 

very respectably connected. The husband was 
the libellant; and sought a divorce, a vinculo, for 
the cause of adultery, on the part of the wife. 
There were circumstances, connected with this 
affair, which aggravated the wrong, inflicted up- 
on the husband ; and left, upon the memory of 
the male aggressor, a stamp of peculiar infamy, 
which time can never efface. He was, professed- 
ly, for years, the most intimate friend of the in- 
jured husband — they had been commercial part- 
ners — he was the trusted and familiar inmate of 
the dwelling, which he made loathsome and des- 

The proof was so irresistible, that the obvious- 
ly wiser course, for the miserable woman, would 
have been, to put on sackcloth and ashes, and 
retire from society. But those friends, from 
whom the Lord did not see fit to save her, im- 
pelled her, in the opposite direction. She de- 
cided to resist, and thus notarialized her infamy, 
before the world. 

The paramour paid the highest penalty, on 
earth, for his offence. Some forty years ago, 
and more, the practice of calling to the field, on 
the occasion of a gross and unretracted insult, 
or otherwise irreparable injury, was, by no means 
so uncommon, as it is at the present day. The 
husband challenged the destroyer of his happi- 
ness. The parties repaired to Canada. Neme- 
sis, that deity, whose province it is, to avenge 
those crimes, which are left unpunished, upon 
earth, had nothing left, for her to do. At the 
first fire, the false friend fell dead. The survivor 
returned to this city, and filed his libel, for di- 


The only prospect of success, on the part of the 
resistant, was by relying on technicalities, and 
in impeaching, or essentially impairing, the tes- 
timony, produced, by the libellant. Mr. George 
Blake and Mr. Dexter were counsel, for the hus- 
band ; and, for the wife, Mr. William Sullivan , 
and Mr. Harrison Gray Otis. This was, emphat- 
ically, a lady's case; and, though it was certainly 
the case of a very wicked lady, her counsel were 
ladies' men. I mean to say, that each one of 
them was a finished gentleman, after the order — 
not of Melchisedec — but of Lord Chesterfield, 
f actus ad unguem. And there were sundry ladies, 
in attendance, witnesses, and others; which cir- 
cumstance rarely fails to exert a happy influence, 
upon the minds of all declaimers, of a certain 
school ; though it has been thought not to be 
particularly favorable to dialectics. 

Mr. Otis was himself, that day; elegant, in his 
person and carriage; his voice appeared more 
than usually melodious , as though he had adapt- 
ed it to that tone of supplication, which seemed 
to be the only resource for his miserable client : 
and he poured forth a profluvium of that char- 
acteristic eloquence, which was ever so captivat- 
ing, in promiscuous assemblies, and with the 
softer sex. When he sat down, there were, 
doubtless, in that dense assemblage — for the 
court room was literally packed, with excited 
and deeply interested listeners — some persons, 
who had a vague impression, that the adultress 
must be innocent; or, if guilty, that there was 
nothing, after all, so very terrible, in the little 
slip, that she had made! 

When Mr. Dexter rose to reply, he had the ap- 


pearance of being fatigued. "In the exordiums 
of his speeches," says Judge Story, "he was 
rarely happy." Such appeared to be the case, 
upon the present occasion. The deliberate and 
methodical style of his commencement seemed 
cold, and without interest, coming so immedi- 
ately after the eloquent, and eminently showy, 
peroration of Mr. Otis. But he soon warmed 
up, for the task before him. Three or four of 
those strong sentences, which flowed so easily 
from the unfailing well-spring of his gigantic 
mind, soon startled the audience; and ensured 
their profound attention. His review of the evi- 
dence was a masterly performance; and, after 
having disposed of the arguments of his oppo- 
nent, he proceeded to draw a picture of domes- 
tic happiness ; of home, as yet untroubled and 
untarnished; and this he did, with so much re- 
finement of taste, and with such power and pre- 
cision of language, and with such unaffected 
pathos, while dealing with all the touching de- 
tails of his subject, that hundreds, who gazed 
intently upon the speaker, beheld him, through 
their tears. 

But, when he came to change this scene of 
wedded bliss, for that of domestic desolation and 
dishonor; and described, with graphic energy, 
the tempter's earliest advances — the first half 
hesitating concessions of the frail one's heart — 
the increasing confidence of the villain, who 
used his familiar privileges of access, to facilitate 
his approaches, and accomplish the dishonor of 
his intimate associate, and long tried friend — the 
fall at last — the workings of remorse — the feeble 
resolutions of amendment, fading away in the 


presence of the paramour — the awakening sus- 
picions of the husband, yielding, as readily, to 
the seducer's cordial grasp, and unaltered smile, 
and the fond greetings and passionate assurances 
of undying devotion of the strumpet wife — the 
discovery, at last, ample and undeniable — the 
pang — the rush of blood to the head and heart — 
while the great magician, for such he seemed, re- 
counted, step by step, this miserable history of 
crime, and suffering, his features retained their 
composure, but his eyes were suffused with 
tears; and tears of mingled pity and indignation 
were shed, on every side. 

The peroration was certainly remarkable, not 
only for its pathos, but for the advocate's inde- 
pendent appeal to the court; one brief passage 
I never can forget : "The great principles of 
common sense and of truth belong to us all. 
They are one and the same, today, and for ever. 
A matter so very intelligible, as that, which 
awaits your decision, cannot differently affect 
the minds of different individuals. Therefore it 
is, that I repose the most perfect reliance upon 
the decision of your honors, on the present oc- 
casion. I cannot be mistaken, in reading aright 
a decree, in favor of my deeply injured client, 
in the countenances of those, who are to pro- 
nounce upon his destiny, today. But let me 
suppose, that you reject his appeal — whither 
shall he fly ? To his home ? That home has 
become a hell upon earth, for him ! Will you 
bid him seek comfort, under that dishonored 
roof, and sooth his anguish in the presence of 
his children ? His children ! He may take them 
upon his knee — not with that feeling of paternal 

70 sigma's reminiscences 

confidence, as in other days — but for the purpose 
of scrutinizing their countenances for the linea- 
ments of every false friend!" 

I had always supposed, and still suppose, that 
the prominent idea, presented in the preceding 
passage, was original with Mr. Dexter. Identical 
discoveries have been made, by different persons ; 
and the same idea may, very naturally, occur to 
different individuals, of superior capacity, while 
pursuing the same train of thought. The reader 
may discover the pertinency of these remarks, 
by turning to Erskine's celebrated argument, in 
the case of Markham vs. Faucet. (1) 

(1) Lord Campbell's Lives of the Lord Chancellors of 
England, vol. 6, page 505. 


No. XL 

I have already referred to the erroneous im- 
pression, that Mr. Dexter was cold and unsocial. 
He never alluded to the associations of his boy- 
hood, without interest; and he had great pleas- 
ure, in treasuring up the memorials of those, who 
were the natural guardians of his earlier years. 
Of his honored parents he always spoke, with 
affection and reverence. I recollect, that he pre- 
served with care a pair of spectacles, which had 
belonged to his father, and for which he had 
caused a case to be prepared, bearing, for its in- 
scription — 

Hceres liceredem velut itnda supervenit undam. 

It may not be an unusual thing, for great men 
to enjoy a peculiar satisfaction, in looking 
through the eyes of their fathers. In a note, ap- 
pended to a letter, from Mr. Webster to Mr. 
Blatchford, in 1850, it is thus written : 

"During Mr. Blatchford's visit, at Franklin, 
to which this letter alludes, Mr. Webster ex- 
pressed much anxiety to find a pair of steel spec- 
tacles, which his father had worn, the last ten 
years of his life; he feared they were lost, but 
said he should devote a day to hunting for them. 
He found them, and told Mr. Blatchford of it, by 
the words — 'I have got 'em/ "(1) 

No man can be justly charged with coldness, 
whose love of country was so cordial, and so 
constant, as Mr. Dexter's. The embassy to the 

1 Private Correspondence, vol. ii., page 400. 

72 sigma's reminiscences 

Court of Spain, offered him by Mr. Madison, in 
1815, he rejected, from an unwillingness to pass 
any considerable portion of his days, away from 
his native land. Had he accepted the offer, he 
would not have quitted his post : but I am not 
sure, that he would not have been a sufferer from 
that nostalgia, as it is called, by nosologists, that 
love of countiy, which has caused the Swiss, in 
foreign service, to desert, by whole companies. 

"I well remember," says Judge Story, "with 
what appropriate felicity, he undertook, in one 
cause, to analyze the sources of patriotism. I 
wish it were possible to preserve the whole, in 
the language, in which it was delivered. No 
one, who heard him describe the influence of lo- 
cal scenery upon the human heart, but felt his 
soul dissolve within him. I can recall but im- 
perfectly a single passage; and, stripped of its 
natural connection, it affords but a glimmering 
of its original brightness. We love not our 
country, said the orator, from a blind and un- 
meaning attachment, simply because it is the 
place of our birth. It is the scene of our earliest 
joys and sorrows. Every spot has become con- 
secrated, by some youthful sport, some tender 
friendship, some endearing affection, some rev- 
erential feeling. It is associated with all our 
moral habits, our principles, and our virtues. 
The very sod seems almost a part of ourselves, 
for there are entombed the bones of our ances- 
tors. Even the dark valley of the shadow of 
death is not without its consolations, for we pass 
it, in company with our friends. In a still more 
recent instance, and indeed in one of the last 
causes he ever argued, he took the occasion of 


an appropriate discussion, to expound his own 
views of the constitution, and, dropping the 
character of an advocate, to perform the para- 
mount duty of a citizen. He seemed as if giving 
his parting advice and benedictions to his coun- 
try, and as if he had worked up his mind to a 
mighty effort, to vindicate those solid maxims of 
government and policy, by which alone the union 
of the States might be upheld and perpetuated/' 
It is very gratifying to be able to proclaim such 
testimony as this ; and to pass it onward to pos- 
terity. The source from which it proceeds, en- 
titles it to the highest respect. 

No man was less anxious than Mr. Dexter, for 
popular favor. The honors and appointments, 
conferred upon him, by the Federal administra- 
tion, were freely bestowed. He stooped to no 
solicitation. And here I am able, once more, to 
avail of the words of that eminent jurist, whom 
I have so often quoted, and to present his opin- 
ion of Mr. Dexter, as a statesman : 

"As a statesman it is impossible to regard his 
enlightened policy and principles, without rev- 
erence. He had no foreign partialities, or pre- 
judices to indulge, or gratify. All his affections 
centered in his country; ail his wishes were for 
its glory, independence and prosperity. The 
steady friend of the constitution of the United 
States, he was, in the purest, and most appropri- 
ate, sense of the term, a patriot and a republican. 
He considered the Union of the States the pole 
star of our liberties ; and, whatever might be his 
opinion of any measures, he never breathed a 
doubt, to shake public or private confidence, in 
the excellence of the constitution itself. When 
others sunk into despondency, at the gloomy as- 
pect of public affairs, and seemed almost ready 
to resign their belief in republican institutions, 

74 sigma's reminiscences 

he remained their inflexible advocate. He was 
neither dismayed by the intemperance of parties, 
nor by the indiscretion of rulers. He believed 
in the redeeming power of a free constitution; 
and that, though the people might sometimes be 
deceived, to their intelligence and virtue we 
might safely trust, to equalize all the eccentrici- 
ties and perturbations of the political system. 

While engaged, in the argument of questions, 
which arose, under the embargo laws, and which 
questions were of frequent occurrence, during 
that period of intense political excitement; he 
suffered no legitimate occasion to pass unim- 
proved, for the utterance of patriotic expressions, 
abounding in reverence for the constitution. He 
was influenced, in this respect, not only by his 
6trong attachment to his country, and the union ; 
but lest his urgent denunciation of the embargo 
laws, in which he was of one mind with the 
Federal party, in whose foremost ranks he had 
always appeared, before the war of 1812 — should 
lead any man to suppose he was also of one 
mind with that portion of the Federal party, 
whose conduct, in opposition to that war, and to 
the government, after their country had become 
involved in the struggle, he, conscientiously and 
entirely, disapproved. 

When Judge Story, almost immediately after 
Mr. Dexter' s decease, delivered those remarks, to 
which I have referred, before the Grand Jurors 
and the bar, he was evidently embarrassed, as 
he approached the consideration of this great 
man 3 s political relations. The task was one, un- 
doubtedly, which required the utmost skill for its 
satisfactory accomplishment. A short time before 
his death, as I have stated, Mr. Dexter had been 


the candidate of the Republicans, for the office of 
Governor of this Commonwealth, in opposition 
to General Brooks, the candidate of the Federal 
party, who was elected, "by a majority of some 
two thousand votes, receiving 49,000, while 47,000 
were cast for Mr. Dexter. In 1814, he had also 
been the Republican candidate, in opposition to 
Caleb Strong. These, and other considerations, 
had greatly embittered the feelings of his former 
political associates; the sore was recent, and had 
not ceased to fester; and Judge Story was un- 
willing to give them needless offence. On the 
whole, it must be admitted, that he has treated 
this delicate portion of his subject, with master- 
ly adroitness, in the following paragraph : 

"He had the singular fortune, at different 
times, to be the favorite of different parties, oc- 
cupying, in each, the same elevation. It is not 
my purpose to examine or vindicate his conduct, 
in either of these situations. I feel, indeed, that 
I am already treading upon ashes, thinly strewed 
over living embers. The present is not "the time, 
for an impartial estimate of his political conduct. 
That duty belongs, and may be safely left to pos- 
terity. Without pretending to anticipate their 
award, we may, with some confidence affirm, 
that the fame of Mr. Dexter has little to fear, 
from the most rigid scrutiny. While he lived, 
he might be claimed with pride by any party ; 
but now that he is dead, he belongs to his coun- 

Those embers, I suppose, are, at this late day, 
sufficiently cold; and the present generation may 
pass over them, in safety. Our Federal party re- 
tired from business, long ago; and its successor, 
after various attempts to recover from its embar- 
rassments, by associating, in the firm, some oth- 
er parties, has recently failed, for a very large 

76 sigma's reminiscences 

amount. Indeed it has been reported, in some 
of the public journals, to be dead; though oth- 
ers profess to be strong in the faith, that it is 
only cataleptic. 

Judge Story has, no doubt judiciously, referred 
the question, which, in 1816, he declined to an- 
alyze, to the decision of posterity; though the 
leaning of his own mind cannot,., for a moment, 
be mistaken. Now I believe the day, on which 
posterity begins to be, is not laid down, in any 
calendar. But, if the lapse of forty years will 
suffice, we may claim our birthright, and call 
ourselves posterity. Let us, therefore, without 
any attempt at minute analysis, consider, and 
very briefly, some of the relations, between Mr. 
Dexter and a portion of the Federal party, dur- 
ing the war, as it is commonly called, of 1812, 
and until the period of his decease. 


No. XII. 

Mr. Dexter differed entirely from many of Ms 
former political friends, in regard to the war of 
1812. They, his Federal associates, fairly ex- 
hausted the English language, for words and 
phrases of denunciation and contempt, against 
the war and the general government. He, on the 
contrary, believed the war to he unavoidable 
and just; although he perfectly agreed with 
them, in the opinion, that the mode of carrying 
it on, the embargo necessarily destroying com- 
merce, and, of course, the revenue, and com- 
pelling a resort to loans and taxation, was mon- 
strous and absurd. He believed, that the Brit- 
ish Orders in Council, when enforced, were a 
gross violation of our rights and national honor, 
and just cause of war. In his address to the 
electors of Massachusetts, in 1814, he denies not 
the right of free discussion. "Tlie privilege of 
every citizen," says he, "to examine the con- 
duct of rulers is unquestionable, though, in 
speaking to his country, he may be overheard 
by her enemies. But this right, like every other, 
may be abused. What good effect is to be ex- 
pected from creating division, when engaged in 
war with a powerful nation, that has not yet ex- 
plicitly shown, that she is willing to agree to 
reasonable terms of peace ? Why make publi- 
cations and speeches, to prove, that we are ab- 
solved from allegiance to the national govern- 

78 sigma's reminiscences 

ment, and hint, that an attempt to divide the 
empire might be justified?''' 

Mr. Dexter was no upholder of the doctrine of 
constructive treason, or that scribere est agere. 
But he certainly believed, when the glove had 
been thrown down, by one nation, and taken up, 
by another, and war actually existed, that it was 
no mark of a good and loyal citizen to give com- 
fort to the enemy, by attempting, with the tongue, 
or the pen, or by any overt act, to paralyze the 
arm, or enfeeble the energies, of his own gov- 

There was surely some good and sufficient rea- 
son, for these grave admonitions, from the lips 
of any patriot, who had the heart to conceive, 
and the nerve to utter, them. The journals of 
the time are filled with exhibitions of that ran- 
corous opposition to the war, and the general 
government, referred to by Mr. Dexter, in the 
preceding extracts from his address. Even in 
the halls of legislation, discussion had broken 
loose from all restraint; and the talk of certain 
gentlemen there would have befitted the lips of 
traitors. I well remember to have heard a high- 
ly excited orator, a Mr. Fessenden, from Maine, 
at that time a part of Massachusetts, declare, in 
the legislature, that he was perfectly ready to 
take the constitution in one hand, and his drawn 
sword in the other, and enforce his rights. He 
was ready to establish custom houses of our 
own, and collect the revenues, into our own 
treasury. He was ready to cast off all allegiance 
to a government, that was driving us to despera- 
tion. And, in his opinion, if we had done all 
this, long ago, we should have done our duty, 


and nothing more. However incredible it may 
seem, these ravings of a political maniac were 
received with manifest applause. This gentle- 
man had been encouraged, doubtless, to believe 
that he should be sustained, by the leaders of the 
Federal party, at head quarters. But Mr. Harri- 
son Gray Otis, who was a very wise man, and 
without the slightest taste for political martyr- 
dom, rose immediately after, and dispelled the 
illusion. He had listened, with great pleasure, 
to the stirring eloquence of his friend from 
Maine. He admired the spirit, by which he had 
been actuated ; but he thought we were not yet 
prepared to proceed to those extremities, indicat- 
ed by his honorable friend. 

After the affair at Bladensburg, and the de- 
struction of the public buildings and the navy 
yard, at Washington, Aug. 24, 1814, very serious 
apprehensions were entertained of an attack on 
Boston; and every consideration of prudence 
and of patriotism seemed to demand, that the 
harbor, which was in a very defenceless state, 
should be immediately fortified. Even this act 
of obvious propriety, inasmuch as it bore the 
aspect of a warlike measure, was opposed, by 
zealous partizans. It is hard to believe, that the 
doctor should ever be rather pleased, than other- 
wise, by the death of a patient, who refuses to 
follow his advice. But there were men, in those 
days of high excitement, who appeared to think 
the destruction of our seaports was not so bad 
a thing, after all ; since it might increase the 
number of those, who would unite with them, in 
execrating the war and the administration. "Let 
the British come ; anything is better, than this ac- 

80 sigma's reminiscences 

cursed war !" Such and similar expressions were 
not uncommon. 

On the 30th of August, 1814, a meeting was 
held at the old Exchange Coffee House, at which 
Mr. Caleb Loring presided. At that meeting, a 
committee of eleven was appointed, to draft reso- 
tions, and to address the Governor, on the de- 
fenceless state of the town, and to report their 
doings, at a meeting of the citizens, on the fol- 
lowing Saturday. Mr. H. G. Otis was chairman 
of that committee, of which I happened to he the 
junior member. Three meetings of that commit- 
tee were held ; but I recollect, at no one of those 
meetings, that more than five members were 
present. There was a strong disposition, on the 
part of some of the committee, to report, that, as 
a million of dollars had been placed under the 
control of the Governor, for our defence, there 
could be no doubt he would employ it, in a 
proper manner, and at a proper time ; and that it 
would be enough to report thus much, and no 
more, to the citizens, on the following Saturday. 
This view was supported by the chairman, with 
his usual eloquence. Three of the committee, 
barely a majority of those present, were of a dif- 
ferent opinion. It was their clear conviction, 
that not an hour should be lost, in putting the 
town and the harbor, in condition for defence. 
After a somewhat feverish debate, it was agreed 
to report resolutions, in which the necessity of 
the case should be fully set forth, and the emer- 
gency pressed upon the attention of the Execu- 
tive of the Commonwealth. When the resolu- 
tions were reported, in committee, by Mr. Otis, 
they were materially modified by the majority; 


shorn of certain portions calculated for political 
effect; and finally agreed to, rather reluctantly. 

They were read, at a meeting, in Faneuil Hall, 
at whl?h Judge Dawes presided. On the ques- 
tion of acceptance, Mr. Dexter rose. He was for 
doing all, that the resolutions proposed, and 
much more. He was in favor of active and im- 
mediate efforts. He pointed out the impending 
danger, especially in respect to the naval arsenal, 
and the ships of war, then lying in our harbor. 
The Hon. William Gray followed Mr. Dexter, 
earnestly urging the necessity of immediate 
preparation. Mr. Dexter then moved, that the 
consideration of the resolutions, already offered, 
be postponed, for the purpose of considering cer- 
tain other resolutions, which he then read, and 
laid on the table. That motion was seconded, 
and lost. Mr. Otis then addressed the assembly, 
at considerable length, in favor of the resolu- 
tions, offered by himself, which were adopted. 

It was during this discussion, that a remarka- 
ble passage occurred, which is still fresh, in the 
memories of several, who were present, upon 
that occasion. The position and appearance of 
the old selectmen's box, in Faneuil Hall, is well 
remembered. Mr. Otis addressed the assembly, 
from the front of that enclosure. Mr. Dexter sat 
on his left hand, a little in rear, and at the dis- 
tance of about eight feet. It was no unusual 
thing, in those days of political irritation, for 
Mr. Dexter to be accused of apostacy — not very 
openly, however — but in the security of the so- 
cial circle — at the dinner parties, and especially 
apres, of some distinguished partizans. Upon 
the occasion, to which I now refer, Mr. Dexter, 

82 sigma's reminiscences 

as the topic, under consideration, clearly justi- 
fied such a course, had alluded, in terms of rep- 
robation, to the wickedness and folly of com- 
forting the enemy, at such a moment, hy an ex- 
hibition of party strife, and opposition to the 
government of our common country. In the 
course of his remarks, Mr. Otis, who appeared 
more than usually excited, uttered these words : 
"We shall not be turned aside from our course , 
which ice believe to be the path of duty, by any fear 
of the rulers, at Washington, on the one hand, nor 
by that of apostacy, on the other." 

The utterance of these words was accompanied, 
by a movement, or rather fling, of the left hand 
and arm, in the direction of Mr. Dexter, upon 
whose face, the eyes of the whole assembly were 
instantly rivetted. No intelligent observer, how- 
ever mistaken he might have been, doubted the 
intention of the speaker. Mr. Dexter half rose, 
with an expression of great indignation, and, in 
a voice, audible by all, who were near, exclaimed 
— "If he does not retract those words, I'll wring his 
nose, in spite of his popularity V y A gentleman, 
the friend of both parties, instantly approached 
the speaker; interrupted his harangue; and 
whispered a few, hurried words in his ear. Never 
was oil more skilfully poured, upon the waters 
of strife : — Nothing could have been more remote 
from his intention, than the slightest allusion of 
disrespect to any member of that assembly; es- 
pecially to one, the purity of whose patriotism 
was above all suspicion. He should as soon 
think of doubting the existence of his God. He 
exceedingly regretted to have been so entirely 
misapprehended. The assurance of the orator 


calmed the rising storm : but thousands retired 
from the assembly, that day, marvelling how it 
came to pass, that words and gestures, which 
seemed to mean so much, could mean precisely 
nothing. To doubt the sincerity of the declaimer 
was out of the question; and the difficulty could 
only be explained, by the conjecture, that a mo- 
mentary stupidity had fallen, like a cloud, upon 
the whole assembly. 

It was one of those occasions, upon which an 
honorable man, by immediate action, may obtain 
summary justice. Had Mr. Dexter permitted 
this offensive demonstration to pass, unheeded, 
many, there present, would have gone forth, as 
swift witnesses, to proclaim, that the lion had 
been taken by the beard. 

84 sigma's reminiscences 

No. XIII. 

In those feverish days, some four and forty 
years ago, the office of the Suffolk Insurance 
Company was more noted, for its daily, political 
harangues, than for its semi-annual dividends. 
There, the prominent leaders of the Federal party 
were in the habit of dropping in, and talking 
over the topics of the day, and, especially, during 
that exciting period, over the grievances of the 
country — the embargo — the accursed war — and 
the weak and wicked administration, that was 
plunging the nation into irretrievable ruin. Such 
were the honest views and opinions of those, 
who freely and frequently expressed them. The 
honorable of the earth were there collected, from 
day to day — men, whose motives were unim- 
peachable. The voice of Mr. Parsons, then Chief 
Justice of the Commonwealth, was often heard 
in those conventicles ; not in his official capacity, 
of course, but as the Magnus Apollo of the as- 
sembly. This, however, was at an early stage of 
these political discussions ; for he died in Octo- 
ber, 1813. "He was," says Dr. Allen, "a most 
determined Federalist. His political influence, in 
the party divisions of his day, was very great." 

Mr. George Cabot was not unfrequently pres- 
ent; eminently dignified in his manners and ex- 
terior, and upright in all his purposes. He also 
was a decided Federalist; and was elected Presi- 


dent of the Eastern Convention, which assembled 
at Hartford, in 1814, whose real designs will con- 
tinue to be misrepresented, from time to time, 
for party purposes, until the Millennium. For 
this gentleman, Mr. Dexter entertained a very- 
high and cordial respect, of which I recollect an 
amusing illustration. Conversing upon the sub- 
ject of the Cock lane ghost, and referring to the 
story of Lord Littleton's death, and other tales 
of apparitions, I incidentally expressed my sur- 
prise, at Dr. Johnson's credulity. "If a man of 
unquestionable veracity," said Mr. Dexter, "if 
Mr. George Cabot, for instance, should tell me, 
that he had seen a ghost, I should believe him — 
unless, perhaps," he added, with a laugh, "it 
was a political ghost." 

Mr. John Lowell was often there, whose pun- 
gent, political effusions were scattered, broadcast, 
over the Federal journals; and who acquired the 
sobriquet of the Boston rebel. The integrity of 
these gentlemen, and of their political associates, 
whose names are well known in this community, 
can never be successfully impugned. That the 
leaders of the Federal party, at any moment, se- 
riously meditated treason, against the United 
States, is an idea, fit only to be repeated to the 
tenants of a lunatic asylum. But, that words 
were spoken, and written; and unpatriotic senti- 
ments openly avowed; and certain assemblies 
projected, whose acts were shrouded in mystery; 
and that these things were calculated to annoy, 
and embarrass the general government, and to 
cheer and comfort the enemy, even while they 
were, not only at our doors, but had actually 
crossed our threshholds, and were ravaging the 


country, destroying the public property, and put- 
ting our fellow-citizens to the sword — that all 
these things were so, neither I, nor any other 
member of the Federal party, who was a looker- 
on here, in Vienna, at that period, can safely, or 
honestly, deny, in the face of the public jour- 
nals, and other incontrovertible testimony. 

It may be well, at this point, to record the sen- 
timents of Daniel Webster, respecting the Hart- 
ford Convention. On the 24th of August, 1835, 
he writes to a friend, as follows : 

"If it would gratify yourself and friends, I 
would give you sundry facts and dates, which 
show what is strictly true, that I had no hand or 
part whatever, in the Hartford Convention; and 
it is true, that I expressed an opinion to Gover- 
nor Gilman, that it would not be wise, in him, to 
appoint delegates. Further than this, I have no 
recollection of interfering in the matter. At the 
same time, it is true, that I did not regard the 
proposed convention, as seditious or treasonable. 
I did not suppose, that Mr. Cabot, Mr. West, 
Judge Prescott, and their associates, were a knot 
of traitors." (1) 

To all these political heresies Mr. Dexter was 
steadily opposed; and, in this opposition, he was 
eminently aided and encouraged, by the zealous 
cooperation of Mr. John Quincy Adams. Mr. 
Adams was repeatedly at Mr. Dexter's office, 
during this period of excitement; and I have lis- 
tened to more than one highly interesting con- 
ference, between them, touching our existing 
difficulties and dangers; the perils of foreign 
enemies, and those of our own household. 

(1.) Private Correspondence, Vol. II. page 11. For 
additional particulars, see Ibid., page 184. 


Mr. Dexter argued, on the presumption, that 
no actually treasonable design existed. He con- 
tended, that it was equally true of hatred, as of 
love, that neither stands still. A man may con- 
ceive a dislike, for his own parent. It is his duty 
to repress, and, if possible, to crash this unnatu- 
ral sentiment. If, on the other hand, he gives it 
strength, by talking feverishly of his real, or im- 
aginary, grievances, day after day, his dislike 
will, ere long, ripen into hatred ; and he may be- 
come the enemy of him, from whose loins he 
sprung; and, vires acquirens eundo, this enmity, 
in some moment of desperation, may drive him 
to parricide ; and yet nothing, surely, could have 
been farther from his thoughts, when he first en- 
tered, upon his mischievous career. So it may 
be, in regard to one's country ; and, when war 
is present, and its perils are imminent, it is idle 
to discriminate, between the country and the 
government, which cannot be immediately 
changed, unless by revolution, adding the hor- 
rors of civil, to those of foreign war. It is the 
duty^of a patriot to love his country, and to stand 
by her, "when her need is the sorest." If, 
through the unskilfulness of the helmsman, the 
ship of state is driven too near the breakers, 
surely it is a wiser course, to assist, in extricat- 
ing her, from her peril, than to waste our ener- 
gies, in sitting still, and railing at the pilot. 
Treason does not spring from the mind, like Mi- 
nerva, from the brain of Jupiter, fully develop- 
ed. Its progress to maturity is, commonly, 
much slower. It is an unusual thing to find an 
individual, who has become a traitor, all by him- 
self. Treason is, ordinarily, a social crime. Men 

88 sigma's reminiscences 

are often gradually talked into it, by one anoth- 
er, each one emulous of his neighbor, and ambi- 
tious of being foremost, in the race. Words, at 
length, wear out their welcome; and the only 
relief is in action. Overt acts are the natural 
consequences; and it sometimes happens, that 
men, who never dreamt of such a melancholy 
consummation, have become traitors, unawares. 

Mr. Dexter, and Mr. Adams were in the prac- 
tice of occasionally meeting their friends, at the 
Suffolk Insurance office, and presenting these 
and other considerations; sometimes, in a fa- 
miliar and conversational manner; and, at oth- 
ers, in set speeches, such as would not have been 
out of place, in the Senate, or the forum. It 
commonly falls to the lot of those, who have the 
worst of an argument, to be the first to lose their 
temper; and words, addressed to the reason, op- 
erate untowardly, and upon the feelings alone. 
These discussions became gradually more excit- 
ing ; and Mr. Dexter soon realized, that his ef- 
forts were calculated rather to irritate, than con- 
vince. He therefore resolved to abandon the 
task ; and, after addressing his old friends and 
political associates, in a deliberate speech, of 
very considerable length, he returned to his of- 
fice, one morning, quite solemnized; and observ- 
ed, as he took off his hat, and resumed his 
chair, that he believed he had delivered his val- 
edictory. It is my impression, that this was his 
last visit to those head quarters. 

When, in 1813-14, Mr. Dexter became the can- 
didate of the Republicans, for the office of Chief 
Magistrate of the Commonwealth, he was select- 
ed, not because he had renounced the tithe of a 


hair of his political principles, or become, in any- 
way, an associate of the Republican party. The 
reason, assigned by them, for their selection, 
was, that "he had broken loose from the legions of 

There is something, rather amusing, in the 
contrast, "between the customary language of 
candidates, in respect to such nominations, and 
the language of Mr. Dexter. The hopeless nom- 
inee of a party, manifestly powerless, and una- 
ble to elect its candidate, is penetrated, to the 
very core of his soul; he never shall cease to 
cherish the recollection of the high honor, con- 
ferred upon him, to the last hour of his exist- 

"When Mr. Dexter heard of his nomination, he 
thought proper to publish the following card — 
not in the Chronicle nor in any journal of the 
Republican party — but in the Boston Centinel of 
April 3, 1813 : 

"A printed handbill being in circulation, where- 
in the subscriber is nominated, as a candidate 
for the office of Governor, for the ensuing year, 
and it having been suggested, that he assented 
to it; he thinks it incumbent on him to assure 
the electors, that he had no knowledge, or sus- 
picion, that it was intended to make use of his 
name, until an intercepted copy of the Circular 
Letter, which has appeared in the Daily Adver- 
tiser, was shown to him, on Tuesday last. He 
hopes he shall not be thought deficient, in re- 
spect for his fellow citizens, or zeal for their wel- 
fare, when he informs them, that he asks nothing 
either from the Government or People of his 
Country. Samuel Dexter." 

This card gave no satisfaction to the Federal 
party. Nothing less would suffice, than a declar- 


ation, that he would not serve, if elected. Had 
Mr. Dexter been elected, by a majority of the 
people, of all parties, there can be no doubt, in 
my opinion, that he would have accepted the 
trust; and the Republicans, together with a por- 
tion of the other party, would have had nothing 
to regret, in the election of a patriot, albeit a 
Federalist, beyond all dispute. A more effectual 
and honorable testimony could not have been 
devised, to establish the reputation of the candi- 
date, for all that was upright and patriotic, than 
this extraordinary selection, of Mr. Dexter, dur- 
ing a period of bitter political excitement, by a 
party, whose extended right hand of fellowship 
he openly rejected. Mr. Strong was elected by 
a majority of some ten thousand suffrages. 


No. XIV. 

On the 14th of February, 1814, Mr. Dexter, 
then at Washington, wrote his celebrated address 
to the Electors of Massachusetts. I quote the 
first sentence, to exhibit the writer's motive for 
the publication : — "The delicate propriety, estab- 
lished by usage in our country, forbids that a 
man, standing as a candidate for office, should 
address the Electors. If the subscriber had con- 
sented to being placed in that situation, this rule 
would bind him to silence. Though he answered, 
while at home, that he was not a candidate for of- 
Jice, Republican newspapers, in the vicinity of the 
seat of government, where he now is, have pub- 
lished an opposite statement." 

In this able document, Mr. Dexter defines his 
relations, with unmistakable precision; and 
nothing can be less complimentary to the party, 
by which he had been nominated, than the tone 
of this address. "The principal subjects," says 
he, "on which politicians at present divide, are 
the system of restriction on our commerce, and 
the war with Great Britain. On the former, the 
writer differs radically from the party called Re- 
publican, and he desires they should know it. At 
the same time, he is utterly unable to reconcile 
some of the leading measures of Federalists, as to 
the latter, with the fundamental principles of 
civil society, and the indispensable duty of every 
citizen, in all countries, but especially in the 
American republic, to hold sacred the union of 

92 sigma's reminiscences 

Ms country. It is this opinion, probably, that 
lias produced the singular fact of his being nom- 
inated, for the first office in the Commonwealth, 
by a political party, to which he does not 
belong." The italics and capitals are Mr. Dex- 

A gentleman, of the Federal party, took upon 
himself the office of reviewing this address. The 
address covers some four octavo pages ; the re- 
view was first published, in seven numbers, and 
extends over thirty pages. It was subsequently 
republished, in a pamphlet, together with the 
address, and with a title, which deserves a brief 
notice. A short preface indicates, that this 
pamphlet was published, under the supervision 
of the reviewer. This is the reviewer's title- 
page — "Mr. Dexter's address to the Electors of 
Massachusetts, in favor of his election. To 
which is added a temperate examination of 
the said address, by a citizen of Massachusetts. " 
Some persons might infer from this title, that, in 
accordance with English usage, Mr. Dexter had 
written an appeal, in favor of his own election; 
while others might suppose, that his address was 
intended only for those electors, who were in fa- 
vor of his election. Nothing can be more untrue, 
than either of these constructions. The title of 
the address was, generally, "to the electors of 
Massachusetts;" and its object was to enable every 
elector to understand the writer's views and 

The gentleman, to whom the authorship of 
this review was universally ascribed, was a most 
excellent and honorable man: but no man, 
probably, ever more egregiously mistook his vo- 


cation, than he, when he undertook the task of 
writing a temperate examination of an address, 
written by a political opponent. I have, just 
now, laid down this temperate examination, after 
a very considerable exercise of patience, in the 
perusal of it all; and if there is, in the language, 
a more flippant and fractious performance, I 
know not where to look for it. It reminds one, 
forcibly, of the enterprise, against Gulliver, at 
Lilliput; or of the onslaught of that worthy 
covenanter, whose senseless fury impelled him 
to ride out of the ranks, while passing near 
Sterling castle, then in possession of the King's 
troops, and discharge a horse pistol against its 
massive walls. 

On the 19th of December, 1799, President 
Adams communicated, officially, to Congress, in- 
telligence of the death of George Washington. 
Messrs. Dexter, Ross, and Read were appointed, 
by the Senate, a committee, to prepare an ad- 
dress to the President, on that occasion. On the 
23d of that month, Mr. Dexter reported a draft, 
which was adopted ; and, on that day, the Sen- 
ate, in a body, waited on the President, and pre- 
sented the address. 

It has been said by Lord Brougham, in his 
"Historical Sketches of Statesmen, who flourish- 
ed, in the reign of George III." : 

"It will be the duty of the historian and the 
sage, in all ages, to let no occasion pass of com- 
memorating this illustrious man; and, until time 
shall be no more, will a test of the progress, 
which our race has made, in wisdom and in vir- 
tue, be derived, from the veneration, paid to the 
immortal name of Washington." 

94 sigma's reminiscences 

This is a memorable passage ; and I am not 
disposed to violate the precept it contains, by 
suffering the present occasion, for commemorat- 
ing this pre-eminently great man, to pass away, 
without recording here the brief address, prepar- 
ed by Mr. Dexter, and adopted by the Senate : 

"To the President of the United States. The 
Senate of the United States respectfully take 
leave, sir, to express to you their deep regret, for 
the loss their country sustains, in the death of 
General George Washington. 

This event, so distressing to all our fellow 
citizens, must be peculiarly heavy to you, who 
have long been associated with him, in deeds of 
patriotism. Permit us, sir, to mingle our tears 
with yours : on this occasion, it is manly to 
weep. To lose such a man, at such a crisis, is 
no common calamity to the world. Our country 
mourns her father. The Almighty Disposer of 
human events has taken from us our greatest 
benefactor and ornament. It becomes us to sub- 
mit with reverence to Him, who maketh darkness 
His pavilion. 

With patriotic pride, we review the life of our 
Washington, and compare him with those of 
other countries, who have been pre-eminent, in 
fame. Ancient and modern names are dimin- 
ished before him. Greatness and guilt have too 
often been allied; but his fame is whiter than it 
is brilliant. The destroyers of nations stood 
abashed, at the majesty of his virtue. It reproved 
the intemperance of their ambition, and darkened 
the splendor of victory. The scene is closed, and 
we are no longer anxious, lest misfortune should 
sully his glory ; he has travelled on to the end of 
his journey, and carried with him an increasing 
weight of honor : he has deposited it safely, where 
misfortune cannot tarnish it — where malice can- 
not blast it. Favored of Heaven, he departed, 
without exhibiting the weakness of humanity. 
Magnanimous in death, the darkness of the grave 
could not obscure his brightness. 



Such was the man, whom we deplore. Thanks 
to God! his glory is consummated; Washington 
yet lives — on earth, in his spotless example — his 
spirit is in heaven. 

Let his countrymen consecrate the memory 
of the heroic General, the patriotic Statesman, 
and the virtuous Sage ; let them teach their chil- 
dren never to forget, that the fruit of his labors, 
and his example are their inheritance." 

Mr. Dexter married Catherine Gordon. The 
issue of this marriage, who lived to maturity, 
were two sons, and two daughters, Catherine, 
Samuel William, Franklin, and Mary. 

On the 15th of May, 1816, the session of the 
Circuit Court of the United States commenced. 
The United States' court room was found to be 
wholly insufficient, for the accommodation of 
the multitude, gathered together, to listen to the 
remarks of Judge Story, upon the occasion of 
Mr. Dexter's decease; they therefore assembled, 
in the room of the Supreme Court of the Com- 
monwealth. A procession moved from the old 
Court House, preceded by the Marshal of the 
District and his deputies. The Judges of the 
Courts, the Chaplain, the United States Attorney, 
the officers of the Court, the Council and Senate 
of the Commonwealth, the Sheriff of Suffolk, 
the members of the bar of this and the neigh- 
boring counties, and a long train of citizens and 
strangers proceeded, through Court street, Corn- 
hill, as a portion of Washington street was then 
called, and School street, to the new Court 
House. The court room was already well-nigh 
filled. After the usual ceremonies, and the charge 
to the Grand Jury, Judge Story proceeded to de- 
liver those eloquent observations, to which I 

96 sigma's eeminiscences. 

have had occasion to refer, occasionally, in the 
course of these remarks. 

In closing these imperfect observations, and 
having the recorded testimony of so man^ dis- 
tinguished men, to the grandeur of his intellec- 
tual powers, it is to be deplored, that this truly 
great man, has left so few, and such imperfect, 
memorials of himself. He had an invincible dis- 
taste for the drudgery of transcribing, or writing 
out his speeches ; and, therefore, we can only 
adopt those words of Judge Story, to which I 
have already referred, when speaking of Mr. 
Dexter' s elevated views, on the subject of patri- 
otism, and "regret," however unavailingly, that, 
with very few exceptions, "they were confined to 
the frail memories of those, who heard him." In 
closing these remarks, and, after a careful re- 
view of all that I have written, I find no materi- 
al thing, which I desire to alter; and nothing to 
regret, but the poverty of this tribute to the mem- 
ory of one, for whose intellectual powers, and 
lofty principles, and genuine patriotism, I have 
ever cherished a sentiment of cordial and pro- 
found respect. Sigma.